Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) has a truly powerful voice which translates into his storytelling and directing style. He generally gravitates towards topics that highlight the injustices suffered by African-Americans and his films are often polarizing. Four of his movies, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, 4Little Girls and She's Gotta Have It, were all selected to be added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for their cultural, historical or aesthetic significance. It should be no surprise to anyone then that his latest movie, Da 5 Bloods, premiering on Netflix on June 12, 2020, once again deals with some hot button topics including the Black Lives Matter movement that has been in the forefront of broadcast news this month.
It was the late 1960's and the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia. American soldiers were on the ground and in the air fighting in a foreign land with which they were unfamiliar. A group of African American soldiers led by Stormin' Norman (Chadwick Boseman; Black Panther) were sent into the jungle on a very special mission. A cargo plane was shot down carrying something very special…a trunk full of gold bars. When Norman and his battalion find it, they decide they are owed reparation and bury the trunk so they can retrieve it later. However, that never happened and Norman was shot and killed in the process.
Fast forward fifty plus years later and the four remaining members of the "Da Bloods" have returned to South Korea to fulfill their promise to bring Norman's remains back to the United States and to find the gold they buried so long ago. Paul (Delroy Lindo; Ransom), Otis (Clarke Peters; John Wick), Eddie (Norm Lewis; Sex and the City 2) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.; Blackkklansman), along with Paul's son David (Jonathan Majors; The Last Black Man in San Francisco) make their way through the jungle, finding the gold, Norman, landmines, and others who wants their riches.
Boseman has a smaller role here but it is no less impactful and memorable. He is the glue that holds the other four together through all those years. Lindo has a wonderful monologue that resonates as he stares directly at you as if he was standing right in your face. Majors offers a powerful character arc as the son who was always looking for his father's approval yet knowing he would never get it. Peters, Lewis, and Whitlock Jr. round out the cast nicely and make the script come alive. They have very good chemistry making their backstory of "brothers in arms" completely believable.
This film has Spike Lee written all over it. There are multiple messages intertwined throughout the film but, of course, he weaves an undercurrent of African American history and the current narrative of our society that Black Lives Matter. His use of news clippings from the past offers a unique perspective on the history lesson we are being taught. He gives an entire community a voice that can be heard loud and clear. Interestingly, he chooses to use his current actors in flashbacks instead of taking the time and money to "de-age" them. This juxtaposition between them and Norman is striking and effective.
While Da 5 Bloods runs over two and a half hours, it flows well and time flies by as you are so engrossed in these men's stories that you want to absorb it all. Beautifully shot, emotionally present, and well written, it is a tribute to Vietnam Veterans and African Americans.
Even though it is coincidentally very timely considering the protests of the last few weeks, the movie isn't "preachy" but serves to try and educate while telling an interesting fictional story. Da 5 Bloods is one of Lee's best films to date and one I'm sure that will be studied in intro to film/cinema classes at colleges all across the country.