Saturday, 13 June 2020

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Since Blackkklansman, Spike Lee is enjoying a new resurgence in his career, where many are discovering his older films while he makes new thought-provoking entertainment today. It is a mystery to me when studios weren't interested in this film, despite Spike Lee being a top-notch director who won his first competitive Oscar in 2019 and this is a war film, but Netflix came through.

Netflix produced a similar film last year called Triple Frontier. That film also followed old veterans going to a different country to try and get some money, though, beyond that premise, the two are very different movies.

The film follows 4 members of The 1st Infantry Division, a squad of black soldiers that fought on the frontlines during the Vietnam war, in the present day, returning to Vietnam after all these years to return the body of their fallen squad leader home to his family. At least that is their public cover story. While they are planning on doing that, there is a secret side mission they are keeping quiet about. Back during the war, the squad recovered millions' worth of gold. Rather than turn it in, they agreed to take it as reparations for everything their country has put them through. They bury it and have finally returned decades later to reclaim it. The journey to get it isn't easy. The land has changed, all of them have PTSD, and they are not the only ones after the gold.

While the Americans called it the Vietnam War, The Vietnamese characters in Da 5 Bloods call it “the American War.” That’s a noteworthy phrase, and it's one the film uses to its advantage to tell a story of how all kinds of struggles: the Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, The Black Lives Matter Movement, etc are interconnected and ongoing. We may choose the ignore it, but it happened and is still currently happening, affecting those who experienced it and their descendants.

A question that the film asks how much sacrifice do these men owe to a country that still denies them basic rights. 33% of the men on the frontlines were black. Even if the men recapture the gold, will it make them whole? With all the story ideas, I believe that if someone other than Spike Lee made it, it would be a mess. As long as it is, it is cohesive and all the parts fit.

One scene that stood out for me was the moment when the men listened to a radio broadcast announcing that Martin Luther King Jr had been killed. The faces of all the men at the same time, once the news was heard, was telling. The impact was felt as the audience understands what it means. They are questioning what it is they are fighting for. I loved the way this moment was handled. As heavy as it is, I should note that the film does end on a hopeful note that may or may not provide some catharsis for the audience.

The entire ensemble is great, though two performances stood out to me. One was Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin. Beyond him using his famous catchphrase from The Wire, I found him to be the glue that held things together when emotion and tension ran hot between the group. He is free from the emotional issues that plague the group and acts as a shoulder to cry on when he isn't sipping a drink living his best life.

Delroy Lindo as Paul gives the performance in this film that is just emotionally devastating. It should be considered for award season. In the final act of the film, delirious, he gives a passionate speech speaking directly at the audience that locks you in. You are completely taken in on what he says. I love that these characters aren't the same. Paul being a Trump supporter and the main character was a brave choice, but it reflects that not all black people are the same.

The editing is a mixed bag for me. Like his previous films, Lee intercuts real-life footage and still photos, changing aspect ratios for the flashbacks. This was a good idea, but some things were cut too quickly and it felt like little things were missing. It isn't damaging to the film, but you do notice some weird cuts. A selection of Marvin Gaye songs populated the soundtrack. The effectiveness of its use will make you think they were written specifically for the film.

Da 5 Bloods is thought-provoking entertainment fueled by Spike Lees energic directing and passionate performances

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