Spike Lee is easily a Hollywood legend and one of the industry’s best Directors working today. For some reason though, his name is seldom spoken if at all with the same reverence among hardcore movie-buffs, film historians and critics as say other living legends like Scorsese, Tarantino, Nolan and their ilk. After all, a repertoire that boasts titles as influential and eclectic as Inside Man, BlacKkKlansman, Malcom X and 25th Hour should afford that honour, shouldn’t it? Perhaps it’s because his career has been interspersed with regular many misses like Bamboozled, Summer of Sam, She Hate Me, Miracle at St. Anna and the Oldboy remake to offset the genius, unlike his other contemporary geniuses. And, after the seminal BlacKkKlansman, Spike again follows the pattern that has plagued him with the new Netflix film, Da 5 Bloods.
Scroll below to read my full Da 5 Bloods review…
What’s it about?
A quartet of retired American Vets return to Vietnam, the scene where the US was handed their only defeat on the battlefield, to recover a massive consignment of stolen gold bars, which they had buried during the war. However, several factors, including PTSD, racial overtones, bigotry, old age, double crosses, landmines, unexpected acquaintances and the looming presence of their fifth ‘Blood’ brother, who wasn’t fortunate enough to return home like them, threatens to detail their carefully laid-out plan.
Off the bat, let’s clarify one things: Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods is a pretty decent film. Spike Lee’s direction is again on point for the most part and he’s armed with a good enough story, co-written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott. When this could have easily been another Kelly’s Heroes or Three Kings (nothing’s wrong with if it had, too, given the classic status of those films), it voluntarily treads a terrain less traversed, walking a tightrope between the jubilation of depicting soldiers grabbing a gargantuan payday and hitting you with the harsh reality of the havoc war plays on them, coupled with the ingratitude faced if you belong to a certain race.
The balancing act isn’t always steady, but whenever the film threatens to trip over, its actors come to the rescue, not least of which is Delroy Lindo’s powerful portray of a grizzled Vet, grappling with the denial of acute PTSD, familial troubles and falling prey to the same racism he’s been subjected to. Clarke Peters, Jonathan Majors, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis and Chadwick Boseman (in an extended cameo) admirably back him up while Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser and Jean Reno (another cameo), too, offer strong support. Newton Thomas Sigel’s camerawork, Terence Blanchard’s background score and the production design are all straight out of the top drawer.
The biggest drawback of Da 5 Bloods is its cluttered screenplay. A lot of merit in the story and direction is wiped clean by too many subtexts and multiple ideas interrupting the narrative. What seems like an ingenious touch in the first half,where dialogue between the characters results in occasional cuts to arbitrary racially charged moments in history, becomes preachy, in-your-face and agenda-driven as the movie lumbers toward its finale, almost becoming prey to the same prejudice it claims to be going up against. At one point, the social commentary gets so overt that the finer nuances of the climax may get lost to the non-discerning eye. Another huge issue is the almost 2-and-a-half-hour length, with editor Adam Gough appearing to have passed his job onto an amateur, straight out of film school, and a very poor one at that.
You’d expect nothing less than impactful social, political and racial commentary from Writer-Director Spike Lee even in a soldiers-of-fortune movie like Da 5 Bloods, and, honestly speaking, that’s what sets it apart. The issue is that Spike gets so caught up in driving an agenda, however pertinent, that his screenplay loses the plot at several points in the second half. There’s still enough here for his fans to enjoy, but neutral viewers will find the proceedings strictly average. I’m going with 2.5/5 stars.