Photo | 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Spike Lee’s explosive “Da 5 Bloods” is riveting, devastating and emotional. When four African American Vietnam War veterans return to the country where they lost their beloved leader, their personal struggles illuminate world events of the past and present. It is a sad, beautiful, thrilling and bloody journey into the historical and personal heart of darkness. Lee spins an epic yarn of racism, colonialism and violence, family relationships and the endless toll of war.
Scenes from the upheaval of the 1960s give way to contemporary times, when four men in their 60s reunite in a hotel lobby in Vietnam. Eddie (Norm Lewis) is a big success and wants to pay for the whole trip; Otis (Clarke Peters) is a quieter man who is focused on finding an old girlfriend; the deceptively jovial Isiah Whitlock Jr. plays Melvin; and standing taller than all of them is Delroy Lindo as Paul, who suffers from PTSD and, to the horror of his companions, wears a loaded, complex signifer: the distinctly red “Make America Great Again” hat. As different as their lives have become, these brothers in arms have not forgotten their secret handshake.
The ostensible reason for their reunion is to find the remains of their fallen leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who was killed after a plane crash while on a secret mission deep in the jungle. But Norman’s body was not the only thing the “Bloods” left buried that day decades ago — their mission had been to recover a chest of gold bars the CIA was secretly giving to the Lahu people for their help fighting the Viet Cong. A recent mudslide revealed part of the airplane, and finding their treasure finally seemed possible.
It was Norman who originally suggested the gold presented an opportunity for the men to make reparations to their own Black community — if they ever made it back there. As the aging vets make plans for how to divide their treasure, things become much less clear. Historical footage and flashbacks are masterfully intercut with the men’s contemporary ventures to deliver the impact of Spike Lee’s epic story. The four surviving men are not digitally de-aged or played by younger actors in these flashbacks; a brilliant choice that expresses the complexity of their memories and identities.
Boseman is beatific as the hallowed Norman, a Christlike figure for whom Paul is the tortured disciple. It will be shocking and disappointing if Lindo does not get an Oscar nomination for his role, in which he absolutely erupts with a series of straight-to-the-camera monologues that are among the most powerful ever delivered on screen. His character is deeply individual yet iconic, and he is over the top in an utterly effective way.
The “Bloods” must do battle with land mines, snakes, the Vietnamese, the French, their own demons and themselves in order to survive, and it is not much of a spoiler to say that not everyone does. This epic film never stops being harrowing.
I have spent the past few months avoiding watching anything too challenging because times have been challenging enough. I have gotten in some good “comfort viewing,” but that ends with “Da 5 Bloods.” But this is not just a film you ”should” watch — I hate those. Don’t be intimidated by this film. Because as important and serious as it is, it was also simply thrilling, engrossing and (bloody) beautiful. You will wince and gasp but also cry. And the themes of the film become more timely with every passing day. It is an unforgettable, must-see modern masterpiece.
“Da 5 Bloods” is streaming on Netflix.
New This Week:
“Miss Juneteenth”: A sweet Sundance hit about a woman who prepares her daughter for a beauty pageant that Mom won years earlier. Memories of her past stir up issues about where she’s going in her future. Video on Demand.
“Irresistible”: Once planned for a wide theatrical release, Jon Stewart’s first film in six years will premiere at home and tell the story of a Democratic strategist who decides to manage a small town mayoral campaign of a popular vet in an effort to get his party more in touch with the common man. Starring Steve Carrell and Rose Byrne. Video on Demand.
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