Jordan King’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Bloods don’t die, we multiply!”
Too messy to be masterful, yet too vital and full of conviction to be anything less than excellent, Spike Lee’s latest joint smokes just about anything that has been released this year and is, as is the master provoc-auteur’s way, timely in the timelessness of the great director’s frustrations and accusations aimed at his nation.
Telling the story of four ex-Vietnam soldiers, known as ‘bloods’ amongst fellow black servicemen, as they journey back to Nam in the present day to find their fallen comrade Norman (Chadwick Boseman) as well as a king’s ransom in pure gold that they had buried as a group 40+ years prior, Lee’s film is a beast that more than feels worth its otherwise potentially intimidating 155 minute runtime. Functioning at once as an act of drawing the red lines between past and present politics and racial inequality, a war film told through unflinching, evocative flashbacks, and a multi-faceted dissection of the effects of PTSD and deep-rooted shame and indignation experiences by those who gave their lives and their livelihoods to a war that should have never happened (though that is a point level-worthy to most conflicts), Lee’s film fires on all cylinders even when its scattershot threads of narrative threaten to lose themselves and tangle up.
Utilising snapshots of the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War, as well as images of forgotten, fallen black American heroes and prominent figures alike, Lee aligns his fiction with fact so closely as to blur the lines of narrative filmmaking and dramatic reconstruction a la documentarian cinema. Da 5 Bloods themselves are products of Lee’s singular mind, full of wit, heart, rage, conflict, and character, but their struggles and regrets and anxieties and needs are those of hundreds of thousands whose voices we have simply never heard. Even as the film becomes increasingly insane in terms of chains of events growing in implausibility, the strength of his analogous mode of storytelling makes everything feel legitimate and rooted in someone’s truth. Delroy Lindo’s Paul remarks, in the jungle where he once saw his brother in arms Norman die, “There are ghosts everywhere man,” and he’s not lying - Da 5 Bloods is haunted by and founded on stories of sleeping soldiers who need to be liberated from silence and the shadow of other, let’s face it more white, narratives about the Vietnam war. Black people in the late 60s made up 13% of the US population, but they made up a third of the military force in Vietnam - their contributions were above and beyond, and their rewards were below and beneath them. In his inimitable way, Lee sets the record straight.
Switching aspect ratios with panache and finesse, needle-dropping with the hottest soundtrack to a Spike Lee joint there’s been, and boasting a formidable cast, led by an Oscar-worthy Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee is close to the peak of his powers once more as he gives us his view on how shit went down in Nam and how shit is going down right now in the United States. Less humorous perhaps in response to a more severe time in our species’ history, Da 5 Bloods took me off guard as I was left in tears multiple times witnessing the anguish and self-loathing stewing inside men who didn’t ask to be heroes and were then denied their right to be remembered as them. When Norman visits Paul when he’s left the rest of the bloods in the jungle, I fell apart.
Not a masterpiece, no, but a monument and a vital addition to the canon of African-American cinema and cinema as a whole. Also makes a really fucking strong case for Netflix’s continued presence at the Oscars beyond next year.