Drew Edelstein’s review published on Letterboxd:
I don't think it's possible to make a war movie in good faith anymore.
Da 5 Bloods is a movie about an immoral war, about the physical and mental scars that defined an entire generation and so dramatically reshaped so many lives, breaking countless spirits in the process. It's a movie about how the war never ends for those who fought, because the ghosts of their past can never be left behind. It's a story about how camaraderie and brotherhood lasts long beyond the battlefield, even as the battlefield can never quite be left behind.
It's also a movie about the mindless murder of the Vietnamese people, and which indulges in this slaughter while trying to argue that ✨war is bad✨
I am so sick and tired of the recreation of war, of American media using these immoral, exploitative conflicts to posit about the cruelty and senselessness of war while using the populations of these countries as props for our heroes to kill and cry about. Da 5 Bloods frequently dips into flashback, showing our "heroes" final mission together as a full unit while attempting to steal blood gold from the United States government to give back to the black American population. Things go wrong, of course, and the heart of their squad (Stormin' Norman) dies in the conflict. How tragic!
Along this mission, they kill at least 40 Vietnamese soldiers. 40 faceless men, who exist as props to be murdered, because the American perspective of a war rooted in globalized political manipulation matters most of all.
The early stretches of the movie is promising and genuinely interesting, because there's a level of multidimensionality to how Vietnam is portrayed that I don't think I've ever seen American media attempt to depict before. American soft power is exerted in cultural exports, in the presence of McDonald's and in bars named after the most beloved of Vietnam War movies, in the understanding that the war wasn't the first or the last time that foreign powers have so deeply reshaped the way Vietnam would develop. The film's best(?) character, Hedy, is a mine disposal expert, the youngest member of a French family whose fortune has been found on the colonial exploitation of the Vietnamese people. First it was rubber, then it was rice; the labor of the Vietnamese empowering foreign interests, and the refutation of those foreign interests sparking a massive global refutation.
The Vietnam War might've been an immoral war, but its victims were just as much the Vietnamese as it was the countless Americans, black or white or otherwise, drafted against their will to enforce a political policy founded on the manipulation of foreign powers. Were this movie to only be about bones and mines and the cultural rifts and complications that have stemmed from the passing of time, I would likely have loved it; there is potent stuff here about the senselessness and shocking immediacy of violence, and how deeply and dangerously the scars of our past run into the very soil we walk upon.
Making a statement about the value of a life and the weight of our ghosts that uses a body count which comfortably sits in the double digits to mourn the loss of one man is not enough for me. I am sick of seeing violence used as a tool to bemoan violence. I didn't want these men to succeed because the gold should've been buried; they brought the fight the second they stepped on that soil, no matter which era we witness, and the film's placation of a seemingly "happy" ending to all this feels so hollow when, in the grand American tradition, countless Vietnamese were mowed down so that internal American cultural divisions could have cash thrown at them.
How is that in good faith? How many more times do I need to see stories of strong, violent men committing horrible acts of violence that make me sick to my stomach so they can cry about it? How many times does the horror and tragedy of war need to be reiterated from the American perspective, while blood still fails to fall on our soil?
There's plenty of merit to this. I think the commentary it makes on globalization and on the complexity of political identities with the passing of time is incredibly compelling, and I think telling a story from a black perspective about the Vietnam War is worthwhile (especially for all the injustices the American government committed towards black people while waging the senseless war).
I'm just so sick of seeing the same damn American perspective, 50 years past when these battles would've been fought.
I'm so sick of war movies about conflicts whose roots lie in the reinforcement of colonial political power mindlessly killing the soldiers of former colonies to mourn the pain of intervening global superpowers.
I'm so fucking sick of a squad of five killing 40 in turn and holding a grudge because they lost one man, and asking me to feel bad about it.
Every bullet fired, even in a movie as critical of war as this, still positively reinforces the American perspective.
That perspective is what needs to be interrogated.
This movie fails to do that.