By Bradley Lane
Spike Lee’s work has, for the most part, always revolved around the Black experience, and Da 5 Bloods is a perfect example of Lee doing what he does best. He tells a compelling story that beautifully combines the personal with the political to make something wholly original.
Set in modern-day Vietnam, Da 5 Bloods follows four Black American veterans as they meet to take one last trip into the jungle. They return to Vietnam in search of their squad leader’s remains and of gold they buried during the war. We learn more about their leader, Stormin’ Norman, through flashbacks to their wartime exploits that paint Norman as a charismatic and wise leader. His absence is felt in the modern-day story as the squad struggle to maintain unity, as time and extenuating circumstances take their toll on the team’s relationship to one another. With tensions boiling, the four men, accompanied by one of their sons, set out into the jungle where dangers await them.
Despite his near legendary status in Hollywood, Spike Lee struggled to get this film made, and after seeing the film, which does not surprise me in the slightest. Not only does it have a lengthy runtime and star older, less marketable actors, both of which are red flags to Hollywood producers, but it also contains challenging messaging. Its themes are, even today, contentious subjects including but certainly not limited to: US imperialism, inter-generational pain, racism, modern-day reactionary politics and of course, Black liberation. Thankfully, without box office pressure Netflix can more easily take on risky projects like Da 5 Bloods. This is all to say, I am incredibly grateful to Netflix and other streaming services for being able to take more risks with the projects they take on. It creates a more interesting film landscape in a time where the biggest films of the day are becoming increasingly homogenized, in both style and substance.
The style of Da 5 Bloods takes cues from foundational works of film like Apocalypse Now and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in that the movie is a sprawling journey with twists and turns around each corner that stretches each of the characters to their limits. The quick pace does wonders to mitigate the intimidating runtime but can leave some ideas left underdeveloped. Like most of Lee’s work, he communicates a lot of profound ideas very quickly but fails to translate them into an entirely cohesive piece of work. Despite this, the film leaves the viewer with a lot to chew on, and it is an easy recommendation for anyone with a Netflix subscription and looking to cap off Black History Month. – 4/5 stars