“Da 5 Bloods is a masterful cinematic journey.”
All of Spike Lee’s unique visual styles and important messages he so eloquently and brutally deploys in his motion picture catalog are evident in his latest feature Da 5 Bloods that follows a group of older friends traveling back to Vietnam some decades after they served together in the war to reunite with their fallen comrade and retrieve something valuable they left behind all those memories ago. With a vital mix of adventure, war, comedy, and an all too important message on the issue of race in America, Lee has perfectly conjured up a beautifully shot film with an amazing script and remarkable performances by all involved.
Da 5 Bloods had been making the rounds in Hollywood since 2013 when it was titled The Last Tour, which was written by The Rocketeer writers Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo. Oliver Stone was attached to direct but then left the project, leading Spike Lee and Kevin Wilmott to take it over and add their brilliance and magic to it. The result is nothing short of spectacular, poignant, emotional, and thrilling with a killer soundtrack from Marvin Gaye’s discography and musician Terence Blanchard.
Lee splices famous speeches from American icons that promote anti-hate and love, along with opposing war, along with clips of horrific war sequences involving African Americans and Vietnamese people with blood being spilled in the streets and war-torn cities, which closely resembles the current state of affairs in the USA. Marvin Gaye’s inspiring songs play in the background that is bound to draw a lump in the throats of his audience once the connection is made.
Da 5 Bloods centers on four friends, now in their 60s, Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), all who served in the same unit in Vietnam, who have traveled to Ho Chi Minh City for a reunion and to pay tribute to their late friend who died during a gun battle in the war – Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Each of these friends raises a glass, sing songs from their days in battle, smile, and even take part in one of the coolest dance sequences of the decade inside a Vietnamese nightclub before the pain creeps up from their PTSD, war, and current political landscape, which seems to never get any better. The situation intensifies when it’s known that these four older men are actually in town to recover a golden treasure they buried decades ago that is worth millions that will cause these elderly soldiers to once again face the fiery eyes of war and their own internal demons.
Being a cinematic maestro and a passionate film fan, Lee pays some truly fantastic homages to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Apocalypse Now, going as far as to bring a light comedic element of playing Ride of the Valkyries in a slow-moving boat, as the older gentlemen load up on food in the city. But as soon as the film feels fun and light-hearted, it quickly changes its tone to something more serious as things don’t go as planned in the middle of the jungle. There’s also a small bit of Stephen King’s Stand By Me on display here, and it’s not just the four friends walking in teh rural landscape to discover a body, but more so that each character dives into their own personal mess and overcomes their struggles through the help of their friends and love, still trying to find the answers to life. Even with Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors), joining in on the trip and the local guide Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen) helping out, elements out of their control, along with severe emotional distress, these men are in the battle of their lives.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (The Usual Suspects, Drive, Platoon) has flawlessly created this beautiful landscape as the film travels back in time for flashbacks of war in Vietname to present-day Vietnam by changing the aspect ratio and giving the image that old school vintage fell with heavy film grain. The delicious landscapes mix well inside the war sequences of brutality where both Sigel and Lee find the beauty in these unexpected places. Lee also utilizes some very poweerful and emotional moments that cross paths with some charmingly funny moments without skipping a beat and will keep everyone on their toes with movie references and peaceful statements.
Each actor is simply phenomenal with the spotlight on Delroy Lindo as he wrestles with his PTSD, nightmares of war, and ugly personal demons, as he tries to pass on knowledge and a loving connection to his son. It’s an ensemble cast that completely knocks it out of the park. Lastly, while Lee tells this remarkable tale, there is always a polistical message at the root of everything, as he ends the film with a speech from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. where he quotes Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again” that perfectly jabs the knife into the pathetic and befouled Trump campaign.
Da 5 Bloods is a masterful cinematic journey that is as important as ever and proves Spike Lee is still one of the leading filmmakers in the world with something essential and significant to say. Stay to the end of the credits for a fantastic joke from HBO’s The Wire.