Academy-Award winner Spike Lee (that felt good to type) follows up his powerful and essential 2018 release BlacKkKlansman with another immediate statement. This time in the form of Vietnam war epic, Da 5 Bloods. Four African-American Veterans return to Vietnam years after the war to retrieve their squadron leader, and the gold fortune he helped them hide. However, as is made clear, the fight is not in Vietnam.
The narrative transitions between the Veterans in the present day and the pivotal moment from their past that has brought them back together. Its scope is truly epic, which causes the narrative to become momentarily messy. However, its message is never lost in translation. Lee puts forward a furious examination and education on the systemic oppression that forced African-Americans to fight in a war overseas, and for their basic human rights at home. He elaborates this education further by soberly highlighting that the same struggle that is still taking place fifty years later.
Its thematic elements are masterfully intertwined to its characters. In-particular its older ensemble who embody slightly different facets of the Black veteran experience. Which informs their emotional response once they return to Vietnam. This is seen most overtly in Delroy Lindo’s exceptional performance as Paul, which deserves all the acclaim it is sure to receive. His portrayal of a deeply troubled and complex Veteran constantly functioning in survival mode is poignant and challenging. While also being the spearhead to the film’s scathing critique of the US governments war on its own Black community. The rest of Veterans are portrayed by Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Norm Lewis who all bring a unique dynamic to this group of men bonded by a joint experience and brotherhood. Their squadron leader whom they are trying to find is played by Chadwick Boseman who is excellent but underused. However, his influence looms large throughout as a challenging moral compass for the Veterans. Finally, Jonathan Majors completes the ensemble as David, Paul’s son. His relationship with the group is unique. As he is initiated into their circle, he learns about their bond as brothers and their time in Vietnam, so do the audience.
Lee embraces the style and sound of the times, paying homage to films such as Apocalypse Now and including the music of Marvin Gaye. His customary use of still imagery and documentary footage reiterates the reality of what took place. Although these characters are fictional their experience is not and this same experience extends long before and after the war in Vietnam. Furthermore, he plays expertly with aspect ratios, shifting size to differentiate past and present. While also utilising the platform. Lee disregards the letterbox format and instead embraces the whole of the small screen, giving it a cinematic feel that far extends the size of your television.
Da 5 Bloods is challenging, vulnerable, complex and highlights Spike Lee as just as vital a voice now, as he has ever been. This is a text and a set of characters that slowly reveal more of themselves over multiple viewings. However, its fury is clear. Emphasising that this is not just a discussion on a moment in history, it is immediate, essential and we must pay attention.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★★★★
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