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Da 5 Bloods is another excellent picture from Spike Lee, but I wasn’t sure it was a four-star movie when it ended. I had to process it, absorb the messages, some subtle, some not-so subtle, in what I would call one of the directors most unique dramas. You learn a rich abundance about life watching Spike Lee films. His work is the definition of the empathy machine that cinema is. His films are a necessity for me as a white person, because learning about the lives and experiences of Black people in this country is something we should all do. Da 5 Bloods follows four army veterans, returning to Vietnam with hopes to retrieve the remains of their fallen brother and a case of gold they buried for themselves. Whether it was Blackkklansmen, He Got Game, or Inside Man, the story may be about one subject, but it evolves with every minute, it’s about a lifetime for Black people, fighting for the United States, calling for respect, and never getting it in return. Da 5 Bloods arrives at the perfect time for this country and Spike Lee continues to be the greatest voice for Black cinema. 

The Bloods are a standard, yet complex group of men. Otis (Clarke Peters) is the level headed one, returning to a part of his soul that was left behind in Vietnam. Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is the softer and light-hearted friend. Eddie (Norm Lewis) is the most successful of the group. And then there is Paul (Delroy Lindo), the one carrying all of the weight and trauma of the war on his shoulders to this very day. Tagging along for the trip is Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), representing the future, the life that some of these men could not have. The fifth Blood is the one they lost in the fight- Norman (Chadwick Boseman). His life and words left an impact on all four of them, with Lee bouncing the narrative between the current trip and past war sequences with Norman. He was a teacher, a born leader, enlightening them on the words of Malcolm X, reminding them who they were fighting for, and even haunting some of them in his death. There may be many themes about Da 5 Bloods, but the big picture is that for these men, the war never ended for them, whether they were in Vietnam or in the United States of America.  

What fascinated me the most about Da 5 Bloods was the scope and style that Spike Lee implements into it. Lee’s voice has been consistently been his own, so much that I sometimes forget how much of a student of cinema he is. The screenplay by Lee and co-writers Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott plays like a parallel of a John Huston heist film and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel changes aspect ratio’s and captures a gorgeous color pallet, while the score by Terence Blanchard, mixed with the music of Marvin Gaye, will remind everyone that Spike Lee is a master of using his score as his message. Not to mention, a movie like Da 5 Bloods is inevitable in retrospect, because during the late 70’s and early 80’s, Hollywood bombarded the cineplex with First Blood’s, Platoon’s, Born on the Fourth of July’s, and Casualties of War with little acknowledgement to the Black soldiers that fought for this country. Leave it to Spike Lee to wake us up and give these soldiers their due diligence.  

Like many movies involving a group, searching for their lost riches, the prospect of money coming in-between them is where the narrative is headed. However, Da 5 Bloods evolves with the depth of each character and many of those complexities are summed up in Delroy Lindo’s performance as Paul. What is easily a front-runner for a best actor Oscar, Lindo’s work is otherworldly. That excellent work is a combination of performance and how complex the character is written. Paul is haunted by the war, harboring loads of bitterness for a country that abandoned him, a son that he resents for opportunities lost, wearing a MAGA hat that represents more anger than greatness, and a brotherhood that he would die for at all costs. Lindo’s work throws it all out there. He’s emotionally charged, heartbreaking, and passionate, which all comes through in a monologue direct to the camera that plays like a lit match to a stick of dynamite. You will be hard pressed to find a greater acting performance in 2020.  

There’s so much more that can be said about Da 5 Bloods, even then it wouldn’t be articulate, and I would still not have said enough. I may not have thought that it was better than Blackkklansmen, it’s just a different movie, and a different message. The work of Spike Lee packs a punch, no matter what he’s trying to say, or how he does it. Whether he’s showing clips of Muhammad Ali speaking out on why he would not kill innocent people in Vietnam or speeches by Martin Luther King, one year before his own death, at the hands of a white man. And still, the most fascinating aspect is that Da 5 Bloods could not have arrived at a better time. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are bright lights flashed on the racism and horrors that Black American’s face everyday. For some folks, the war has never been a matter. For Black people, living in this country, they just want us to say they matter. Say it loud, say it proud, more than ever, say it forever. Black Lives Matter. 




Written by: Leo Brady


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