Few cinematic voices carry as much weight in a time like this as Spike Lee’s does. Lee has been commenting on, critiquing, and filming the issues currently at the center of our culture for over 30 years. His newest film, Da 5 Bloods—which opens with words from Muhammad Ali and closes with a speech from Martin Luther King Jr.—certainly has a lot on its mind. And while characterizing it as “the movie we all need right now” may be unfair and a little inaccurate, it is unquestionably one of the most important films of the year and deserves to be watched.
The story of Da 5 Bloods centers on four black Vietnam veterans returning to the area where they fought several decades prior, in order to claim a treasure they once found. But truthfully, this film is so much more than its plot synopsis may suggest. As I previously mentioned, Da 5 Bloods has a lot to say. This film touches on black pride, the Civil Rights Movement, family, friendship, the issues that plagued our country during the Vietnam War, our treatment of veterans in this country, and even our current political divide in 2020. One thing I particularly love about this film is that while it mainly takes place outside of America and, on the surface, revolves around a war that was fought 50+ years ago, it feels like it has its finger on the pulse of America in 2020. In fact, for a film that is largely about a group of old men looking back on events from their youth, this film feels incredibly modern and energetic. None of this came as a surprise though, because Lee has proven throughout his career that he is able to use film to comment on the issues at the center of our culture perhaps better than any of his contemporaries. Da 5 Bloods does not feel like a film trying to preach anything to you though. There is no message being beaten over the viewer’s head. Perhaps that is due to the plot, because this ultimately is an adventure film, but I think most of the credit for that goes to Lee’s brilliance and his experience handling sensitive topics in his films. He has always known how to entertain and tell a story, while also including meaningful and smart social commentary.
Aside from many of the very urgent themes present in this film, I think the thing that most people will take away from Da 5 Bloods is the amount of powerful performances that are given throughout it. The four main Vietnam veterans are excellently played by Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.. From the first moment these men are on screen together, you can feel the tremendous chemistry that they have with one another. The audience first sees these men together in a hotel lobby early in the film. In the very first moments of that scene, it is immediately apparent to the audience that these men are real friends with a lot of history. Before we even know the totality of their story, their bond is apparent. Lindo has by far the most flashy part, and he brings a captivating presence to every scene he is in. There is some very early Oscar buzz around him right now and it is completely warranted. I also want to give a shoutout to Jonathan Majors, who plays Lindo’s son in the film, and joins the four veterans on their journey. Film fans should be familiar with Majors from his breakout role in last year’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Majors once again knocks it out of the park in this film. He brings an effortless charisma to the screen that is not often seen amongst young actors around his age. After seeing him in his last two films, I think it’s fair to say that he is one of the more talented young actors working today and just a couple of roles away from being a huge star. Quite honestly, the performances are incredible across the board in Da 5 Bloods. The cast is rounded out with supporting performances from Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Nguyen, and Jean Reno. Though Boseman’s screen time is limited, his presence is felt throughout the movie. He plays a character who is very integral to the film’s plot, which requires an actor with the magnetism that Boseman does indeed possess.
One potential criticism to be made about this film is that it is arguably a little all-over-the-map when it comes to tone. Like many of Lee’s films, it is hard to place this movie into one singular genre. The first act of Da 5 Bloods is a lot more subdued than the second, which is more action heavy, but then the third act brings certain themes that were not as apparent earlier in the film. While some may have a problem with this, I was not bothered by at all. This film is telling an expansive and rich story, therefore it requires the presence of different tones and feels throughout. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this is an adventure movie in a lot of ways. And the ever-changing tone allows the audience to feel like they are undergoing a similar journey as the characters are. When it comes to the question of what genre this film falls into, I would argue that the answer is simply “Spike Lee.” This is true for most of Lee’s films because he is a director with such a distinct voice and style. Da 5 Bloods could be characterized as a war movie, adventure film, or even a drama with its fair share of comedy. The truth is, it is of all those things. And more than that, it is all of those things in the hands of Spike Lee. His fingerprints are all over this film from start to finish, which is a positive because I honestly can’t think of a director better suited to tell this story than him.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I don’t think we need to come out and label Da 5 Bloods “the film for this moment.” It does touch on some of the issues prevalent in our culture right now, but truthfully, I find that label to be somewhat reductive. Da 5 Bloods is a film for all moments. It’s certainly not the best work of Lee’s career or anything like that, but it’s still the product of a master filmmaker operating at a very high level. Obviously, Lee wasn’t attempting to make a movie for the month of June 2020. He had a vision for a story and he wanted to tell that story in his own unique way. And when you look at it like that, there is no question whether he succeeded or not. Ultimately, Da 5 Bloods is a very powerful film, and I would recommend it to people in this time, or in any other. While I’m hopeful that it will help prolong and encourage some of the conversations taking place right now, it’s not necessarily fair to classify this as a “movie of the moment.” But still, it is a movie that speaks to some of the ideas that our pervasive in our society. And while I don’t necessarily think Da 5 Bloods speaks exactly to what is currently taking place throughout America, it is admittedly a pleasure to hear from Spike Lee in a moment like this. As I stated at the beginning of this review, his voice is very impactful and influential at the moment. So, in a sense Da 5 Bloods is a “movie of the moment” because any film we are fortunate enough to receive from Lee right now is going to be massively important.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5