Spike Lee pulls no punches while exploring America’s long history of racial injustice in Da 5 Bloods, a gripping story of four African American vets who return to Vietnam to reclaim the remains of their squad leader and the stash of gold he helped them hide.
Da 5 Bloods is nothing short of absolutely mesmerising. Spike Lee has crafted a war story that is driven by emotion, is consistently tense and speaks volumes about the history of America’s political climate without ever coming across as preachy. The story is captivating right from the get-go as Lee sends us back and forth in time, following the four veterans on their return journey to Vietnam and briefly during their time spent in the Vietnam war. The way these two time periods are explored through the first half of the film is stellar. Lee uses details from both periods to introduce us to, and develop, the characters in ways you couldn’t do if you were just focusing on the modern day. Within the first 20 minutes alone, he manages to get you emotionally invested in their journey and get you caring about every single character before you’ve even gotten to know them.
When the story begins, you can’t help but think you know how it’s all going to go. However, as time goes on, the tension rises and the narrative becomes more and more uncertain, making for an absolutely thrilling ride the whole way through. Every little twist and turn occurs very organically and it’s all supported with various moments of foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the early moments of the film. I mentioned that this is an emotionally driven story, and that is the case for every single character’s arc. Everyone in here has their own personal journey, beyond the main focus of the story, that brings so much more depth to their character and makes the whole film that much more poignant.
This story is one that touches heavily on America’s racial injustice, especially with all of the real-world references it makes, and it does so without coming across as jarring. To limit the scope of this film to being something that is relevant in what is going on in the world right now would be ignorant. The film intricately conveys that the unjust treatment of African Americans is something that has plagued the US for many, many years. This story, and its social and political commentary, is just as relevant today as it would have been 5 years ago, 20 years ago and even 50 years ago. Unfortunately, it will probably still be very relevant going forward.
With an all-star cast, there’s no surprise that all of the performances in here are riveting, but none more engaging than the absolutely phenomenal performance by Delroy Lindo (Paul). Delroy is the glue that holds this entire film together. Every word of dialogue is flawlessly delivered and for every second he is on screen you cannot keep your eyes off the acting masterclass he is putting on. Forget one of the best performances of the year, this is one of the best performances of the decade. I was locked into his character’s journey from beginning to end due to the way he conveys a tonne of raw emotion through his performance, at times without the need for dialogue.
What’s incredible about this cast is that despite Delroy’s astounding performance, everyone else still manages to shine in their own way. Johnathan Majors (David), Clarke Peters (Otis) and Norm Lewis (Eddie) all deliver strong emotional performances that make each of their characters just as compelling as the other. What’s very clear early on is that they all share a tight chemistry that makes it really easy to buy into the fact that they’ve known each other their whole lives. Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Melvin) is the only one I was worried would feel like the outsider in the story due to being the younger crew member, but even his character has an engaging arc of his own.
Even from a technical standpoint Spike Lee has crafted a film that is utterly beautiful to look at as the Vietnam setting makes it like you’re watching a moving oil painting. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is stellar in how he captures the Vietnam landscape and films it differently in the past and modern day scenes. He also has fun with the aspect ratio and the grain of the film to engross you even further into the different time periods.
In the end, Spike Lee has hit a home run with Da 5 Bloods, delivering a captivating story with impressive cinematography and a breathtaking performance from Delroy Lindo who should make a splash at the next (delayed) Oscars. Da 5 Bloods is gripping from beginning to end, runs at a consistent pace that never dips and is one film on Netflix not to be missed.