Da 5 Bloods – Film Review – The film for the moment
“I’m as mad as everybody, all us Bloods got a right to be. We Bloods won’t let nobody use our rage against us. We control our rage.”
Let there be no mistake – Spike Lee’s rage, the black community’s rage, is felt throughout Da 5 Bloods, as anger and hate fester within its sombre story. No, this isn’t as emotionally exhausting as 12 Years a Slave let’s say (still an effective experience), as there’s plenty of humour and the main group of characters are likeable. But Da 5 Bloods still feels like a cry towards the cyclical violence that has carried on throughout history.
The film follows a group of African American Vietnam war veterans and one of the veteran’s son (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jonathan Majors), who all return to Vietnam to find the remains of their squadron leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and the gold that was buried with him. But Da 5 Bloods quite urgently informs us that this isn’t what the film is really about.
An opening montage sets the tone instead. Showcasing key events – the resignation of Nixon, the Democratic National Convention in 1968 – Lee also features some graphic imagery and a prevalent speech to underline the ultimate theme of the movie: humanity is brutal, cruel, particularly towards those that lack the privilege that comes from being in the majority. What does this speech tell us? Well, it needs repeating now for all to hear:
“In the Civil War, 186,000 black men fought in the military service, and we were promised freedom and we didn’t get it. In World War II, 850,000 black men fought and we were promised freedom and we didn’t get it. Now here we go with the damn Vietnam War, and we still ain’t getting nothing but racist police brutality etcetera!”
Spoken in 1968, it’s scary how you could process the black and white footage into colour and you’d think it was being recorded today, as many are rightfully angry at the injustices aimed towards their culture, their people. This is the message of the movie and is exactly what makes Da 5 Bloods an ambitious, tragic and excellent work.
Lee directs the hell out of this. It could come across as a political manifesto, but Lee cleverly uses real-life footage to enrich the context of these four veterans. Despite the jovial initial meeting of the group, Lindo’s Paul, Peters’ Otis, Lewis’ Eddie, Whitlock Jr.’s Melvin and Majors’ David all harbour some kind of guilt or trauma from the past. Otis discovers a daughter with a prostitute he met during the war, for example.
The most important of these is Paul. What’s so brilliant about Da 5 Bloods is how Lee examines discrimination and hatred from all angles. Yes, that earlier speech highlights the injustices committed towards the black community. But Paul holds his own grudges: he cannot and will not let go of his disgust for the Vietnamese people.
We see Paul appear distrustful of a Vietnamese guide (Johnny Trí Nguyễn) who ultimately proves to be one of their closest allies. Paul gets aggressive when a vendor tries to forcefully sell him a chicken. Paul lashes out, gets violent. That violence is ultimately pointless, encouraged by a history that will forever mark a particular culture as the enemy. This is what everyone is fighting against with Black Lives Matter, and Lee uses Da 5 Bloods as his rally cry before heading into battle.
None of that would translate to the audience without Lindo’s haunting portrayal of a man that’s truly lost his grip on reality. We slowly witness his struggle to love at the beginning, losing all sense of it at its end. Lindo captures this with desperation. As he sweats profusely throughout, Paul always looks ready to snap. And when he does, Lindo captivates. A tracking shot in which Paul speaks to the camera, to us, proclaiming that no one is “snatching my gold bars...I ain’t getting fucked again”, we feel the fight or flight nature of his character. It’s heart-breaking.
That word summarises the experience of watching Da 5 Bloods. It’s about brothers in arms returning to their traumatic past. It’s about groups of individuals recognising that historical discrimination hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s about a man who cannot see beyond the depths of his anger. Lee tackles all of these subjects admirably in Da 5 Bloods, a film that should be broadcast beyond the confines of your television. This is not just a movie: it feels like it’s truly contributing to the moment.
Have you seen Da 5 Bloods? What do you think of it? Be sure to visit Black Lives Matter to see how you can help the current cause.
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