Da Five Bloods: A Vietnam Movie for 2020

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Ever since his cinematic debut with She’s Gotta Have It, director Spike Lee has proven himself to be one of the most provocative voices in the film industry. His films are stylish, bold, visually inspired, and often very polarizing in terms of their commentary. Lee has never been one to compromise his vision for the sake of pacifying the general audience, for all of his films challenge some aspect of American culture. 1989’s Do The Right Thing was a scathing indictment of racial tensions in America, while his recent Blackkklansmen served as an angry reminder that the racism of the 1970s is still alive and well in this country. And now with his new film Da Five Bloods, Lee is aiming his considerable ire at how this country treated black soldiers and the Vietnemease during the Vietnam War. Da Five Bloods is more than a condemnation of America’s past sins, as it also showcases how history’s mistakes can lead to present day pain.

Da Five Bloods follows the Bloods, a squad of African American soldiers who served during the Vietnam war. The Bloods must contend with not only the horrors of war, but must also deal with the racism and inequality they face from their own country. Things finally turn around for the Bloods when they discover a locker of gold after a firefight, and leading the group to make a pact to return to Vietnam after the war to collect the fortune for themselves. Sadly, tragedy strikes, with the squad leader, Stormin’ Norman, being killed in action soon after the discovery of the gold. Decades pass and the Bloods eventually reunite in modern day Vietnam, though all four men have become radically different people. One member in particular, Paul, is suffering from severe PTSD and has become a dangerously bigoted conservative due to the bitterness he sustained from his own struggles for equality. Yet Despite their differences, the Bloods remain united in their goal to retrieve both the gold and Norman’s remains, though Paul’s deteriorating sanity threatens to tear them apart. 

Part of what makes Da Five Bloods so powerful is the manner in which Lee demonstrates the different ways people deal with past trauma, with Paul proving to be an especially interesting character. While most of the Bloods are somewhat dissatisfied with how the country continues to treat other African Americans, Paul has become a full blown patriot, proudly admitting he voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Furthermore, Paul has descended into becoming a full blown bigot towards the vietnemease, and has the audacity to wear a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat throughout the second half of the film. Paul is tired of being treated like a second class citizen in his own country, and now desires to look out for his own self interests. And if that means voting for a man who proudly demonizes immigrants and minorities to inspire patriotism, then so be it. Yet what makes Paul so fascinating is the fact that Lee refuses to portray him as a caricature of conservatism, instead opting to show him as a 3-dimensional human being.Yet while Paul is a tragically sympathetic character, the filmmakers do not excuse his toxic ideology, as they are more than willing to show the pain caused by Paul’s bigotry. However, Lee is only able to bring this complex work of fiction to life thanks to the talents of his masterful cast, all of whom are truly exceptional in this film. 

Spike Lee has always had a knack for getting great performances out of great actors, and Da Five Bloods is no exception. The entire cast of this film is in top form, with Delroy Lindo delivering quite possibly the best performance of 2020. Lindo is captivating as Paul, communicating the character’s pain with heartbreaking realism. Paul is a broken man, a delusional patriot, and a terrifying bigot, thanks in large part to Lindo’s ability to portray every facet of his personality flawlessly. The rest of the Bloods are in fine form as well, with Clarke Peters, Isaiah Witlock Jr., and Norm Lewis delivering some powerful performances. All of these actors have outstanding chemistry with one another, and you can tell that they have history by just watching them work off each other. The tragically deceased Chadwick Boseman is a truly magnetic presence as Stormin’ Norman, for his charisma hangs over the entire film despite his admittedly limited screen time. Jonathan Majors is wonderful as Paul’s son David, and his deeply human performance helps counteract some of the wonky writing surrounding his character. While David is introduced abruptly, Majors gives the character a compelling sense of vulnerability, effectively showcasing how difficult it would be to grow up with an unstable father figure like Paul. And being a Spike Lee film, the craftsmanship on display is second to none, for Da Five Bloods has some truly gorgeous cinematography and truly inspired filmmaking. 

Da Five Bloods is easily the best film that’s come out so far this year (though given the state of the pandemic, that’s not saying much). Spike Lee has successfully made a war film for 2020, one that continues to challenge people and help them realize how the sins of the past shape our future. It’s not a perfect film, some of the writing is weak and the editing is a little messy in parts, but it’s still a powerful piece of art. So if you are in desperate need of a provocative and beautifully crafted film, go to Netflix and check out Da Five Bloods.