Spike Lee presents an action-packed genre mashup that mostly misses the mark. Lee’s Vietnam war, adventure flick doesn’t fail in it’s attempts to entertain, but it certainly fails in competing with the heights of Lee’s previous filmmaking achievements.
Spike Lee’s movie making career has spanned over 35 years. Throughout this period his films have targeted political issues and examined race relations in powerful and unique ways. As early as 1989, Do the Right Thing was cementing Lee’s position as an influential figure in cinematic history. Combinations of compelling storytelling and strong social commentary has continued to be prevalent in his career. Notably, BlacKkKlansman in 2018, which earned Lee his first competitive Oscar win for Best Original screenplay. The director said he wanted his film to ‘connect the past to the present,’ which it did, to great success. Da 5 Bloods on the other hand doesn’t quite manage to replicate this impact and most likely won’t replicate the same critical acclaim.
Lee should be praised for bringing to light the mistreatment of African American soldiers in the Vietnam war, effectively displayed in historic photo stills, and an opening montage steeped in the style of a Spike Lee Joint. Lee focuses on the impact of war on individual soldiers, and the harsh realities of PTSD, aided by the strength of Delroy Lindo’s performance as the conflicted Vietnam veteran. It would be a great shame if Lindo isn’t nominated for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars.
Da 5 Blood’s follows four African American Vietnam war veterans who return to their haunted past of warfare to recover the body of their previous squad leader, while also searching for gold which they hid 50 years earlier. Combined with this is a separate story of flashbacks, shown in a different aspect ratio. The stylistic decision to change the ratio and use the same actors at the same age is effective. It does seem to feel as though we are reliving the blood’s past with them.
In the present storyline the writing flows between comedy and darkness in a disjointed manner, and the plot seems littered with too many implausibility’s. Entirely uncharacteristic of Lee’s usually smart and creative storytelling ability. The idea of a Goonies style adventure didn’t fit in a film of genuinely shocking deaths and gore. Moments of horror or shock felt strangely out of place, and failed in producing the right emotional impact desired.
Conflicting storylines grated against each other in an uneven manner. It was as though two films were competing for runtime- therefore allowing neither to completely display their true potential. Although the attempt is admirable, the result is frustrating, producing an incoherent narrative.
There are many redeeming qualities however. One memorable moment involved the vocals of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ and a montage of the situation of our characters. It seemed that this moment with no speech, and minimal action was the most emotionally impactful and powerful of the 154-minute runtime.
Within the flashback segments is the powerful presence of the late, great Chadwick Boseman. Portraying Stormin’ Norman, Boseman dominants the screen with authoratative spirit, as his animated presence squeezes the last drops of potent potential from every second of screentime he is given. Every line he utters is a reminder of the tragedy of his loss.
Spike Lee’s film isn’t a total failure. His message is still very clear- and occasionally is well communicated. However, this may only be because we know it’s Spike Lee telling the story. In the long run this film will certainly be one of Lee’s less memorable pictures. Despite some fine acting, and an excellent score from Terence Blanchard, the story is mostly weak and the writing inconsistent. Even 30 years later it is Spike Lee’s second film, Do the Right Thing, which remains his most impactful and still socially relevant movie.