Four African-American Vietnam veterans return to Vietnam. They are in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of buried treasure. These heroes battle forces of humanity and nature while confronted by the lasting ravages of the immorality of the Vietnam War.
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Hooked by the trailer, I keenly awaited the arrival of _Da 5 Bloods_ on Netflix. This is a new Spike Lee movie that follows four African-American veterans from the Vietnam War as they return to Vietnam decades later. Their reason for going back is twofold - they are in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader but also to recover a pile of gold they buried while in-country.
I’ll start off with the things I enjoyed about this.
I thought it was great to see Delroy Lindo front and centre of this movie. He’s a great actor and he is by far the stand out in this. In fact the best part of the whole movie belongs to him in a fantastic monologue delivered directly to the camera. It sears and makes you feel uncomfortable to watch. His performance in those three or four minutes was so good that it elicits a reaction from you. It reminded a lot of the devastating monologue Jean Claude van Damme gives in his criminally underrated movie _JCVD_. It’s fantastic stuff.
The other thing I liked was that Lindo and crew were the same age through the whole film, be it in Vietnam during the war, or in the present day. There seems to be some confusion online about this, my take on it was that this was an artistic choice to show how memories of the war stayed with the guys. When they reminisced from the present day, the things that happened to them back during the war were still affecting them. It was an effective way to get this across.
Also from an artistic point of view I thought the way the aspect ratio of the screen changed depending on whether it was present day or during war was great. It gave you a visual reminder of the change of tone and storyline.
So those were some good things that really stood out to me. On the other side there were a number of things that I found quite distracting about this, things that took me out of the film.
Like how within the first 10mins there is a dig at Donald Trump. One of the characters refers to him as “President Fake Bone Spurs” which was a funny joke in passing, but then we switch to some actual footage of Trump at a rally and the on screen graphic identifies him as President Fake Bone Spurs. There’s digs like this all the way through and it felt odd and shoehorned in for a movie about Vietnam. To the point where towards the end of the movie, the biggest a-hole in the movie literally puts on a Make America Great Again hat. Like, we get it bro, you don't like Trump, can we please get back to the treasure hunt now?
At times the movie does a subtle job of speaking its message, but at other times it feels too heavy handed. Lee treats his audience like idiots by having a character go on to explain a point that he had subtly made just in case you didn't get it, and then at other times like with the MAGA hat, he just slaps you in the face like as if nuance is beyond you. I think this means that for some viewers, rather than getting them thinking and the dialogue being thought provoking, it will just entrench them deeper in their beliefs by getting defensive.
I also felt that the movie was too long. It clocks in at just over two and a half hours and it drags in places. At one point I thought “man this has been going for ages and we’re not even in the jungle yet” and looked at the timer to see I was only around 45mins in and there was still nearly two hours to go. I kinda feel like it could have benefited from a couple more sessions in the editing suite.
There was one thing I couldn’t work out - one of the 5 Bloods has a scene where he reconnects with a lady he had a relationship with during the war. But the thing is she is nowhere near old enough to have been in her 20s in the 1960s, and the daughter they had is also nowhere near old enough to have been born in the late 1960s. Was it an odd casting choice or was their underlying explanation for it? If anyone knows, let me know!
So yeah, overall it was a bit of a odd experience. It has moments of good stuff, but for me, the down times were too many and too long. This would have been a much better movie if it had a shorter runtime, and less over-explaining of its political messaging.
40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Rahway Road Productions by Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott.
Stars: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters.
Genres: Adventure, Drama, War
Keywords: vietnam veteran gold war veteran vietnam vietnam war male friendship land mine
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