Spike Lee has never cinematically shied away from telling the story he wants to tell, regardless of content or message. And his latest feature, Da 5 Bloods, is no different.
It tells the tale of four Black Vietnam veterans: Paul (Deroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), who after years apart, decide it was time to go back into the jungle for some unfinished business they left behind. The problems come when the four men while searching for the remains of their fallen squad leader and friend, “Stormin Normin” (Chadwick Boseman), unearth a buried treasure in the form of gold bars. And from then on, it’s trying to survive their second war in Vietnam.
Spike Lee has always had a signature style to his filmmaking that is uniquely his. And when you are watching a “Spike Lee movie,” you know without a doubt that it is his. But because of our familiarity with his work, it may have backfired in the way of making his latest project somewhat predictable. There has always been a certain level of heavy-handedness to Spike’s work that in past movies was noticeable but do to strong storytelling was overlooked. Unfortunately, in this film…it’s downright exhausting.
“…unearth a buried treasure in the form of gold bars. From then on, it’s trying to survive their second war…”
I’m not even sure where to start with some of the problems (and it even pains me to say that considering how much I wanted to love this movie). Da 5 Bloods had the right recipe, but the wrong execution. for the sake of brevity, I’m going to pick and choose my battles here. First things first for me has to be the editing of this movie.
When I normally review a movie, editing isn’t something I get too deep into. Mainly because if the edit was good, I wouldn’t even notice. But the editing in Da 5 Bloods was simply atrocious. Worse than bad…it didn’t make any sense. The way scenes were hopping around in this film. You would think you were watching a music video from the 80s. Vital scenes would appear with zero context to the scene before it as if something important in between was left out. I did not understand the editing choices at all, and it really took me out of the film at times.
The story on its surface is a very old trope based on Treasure of the Sierra Madre told in a Vietnam War backdrop. But on a deeper level, it’s a story about being Black and forgotten by the country we serve, which is a strong premise on paper. But It seemed as if Spike Lee was trying to tell several different stories in one film. Instead of focusing on the four vets individually and their backstory with their respected and loved squad leader “Stormin Norman,” and why they felt so strongly that they needed to honor his death, Lee instead chose to focus on the vets current day problems, which wasn’t nearly as interesting.
“…felt like I was watching reality-show confessionals.”
Tonally I couldn’t tell if what I was watching was supposed to be an actual film or a stage-play. There were so many pointless monologues. I felt like I was watching reality-show confessionals. The flashback to the Vietnam war scenes was interesting enough, but the creative choice to not cast younger actors to portray the vet was very distracting. Instead (maybe to save on cost), Lee used the older actors in a stylized way to re-enact what happened in the war. The issue I had with this was when working along-side a much younger Chadwick Boseman, it really took something away from how charismatic and inspiring “Stormin Norman” should have been.
The performances were the strongest part of this movie. Using acting vets (no pun) like Delroy and Peters is always going to, at the bare minimum, guarantee some great scenes. The supporting cast also delivered in a way that kept the film watchable. Even the monologues (though six too many), were well acted.
Would I recommend this movie?
Yes and no? Personally, I feel it would have worked better as a mini-series instead of a feature film. But overall, Da 5 Bloods wasn’t a bad movie. It was something that was a little “off the cuff,” but still entertaining. And I believe I know what Spike Lee was going for with this film. It’s obvious that he wanted to tie in current-day issues with the racism of the past. Unfortunately, it didn’t come together like it was probably meant to. As a Spike Lee fan, I think this is one that I can say I saw but really have no desire to watch again. If you’re not a Spike Lee fan, with a run-time of 2 hours and 35 minutes, this movie is going to be rough.
"…Da 5 Bloods had the right recipe, but the wrong execution."