Nicolò Grasso’s review published on Letterboxd:
Original Title: Da 5 Bloods
Year of Release: 2020
Genres: Drama; Adventure; Action; War
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott
Main Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Lê Y Lan, Nguyen Ngoc Lâm, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman
Early on in Spike Lee's new joint, the Netflix exclusive Da 5 Bloods, I was feeling very weird feelings. It took me a while to realize that what I was experiencing was genuine excitement to be seeing something so bold and idiosyncratic. The way the film is put together, especially with its editing, almost feels like Spike Lee was gleefully breaking all the rules about continuity, the 180° line, suspension of disbelief, and tonal consistency. This thing will make or break the film to many, and while it was slightly off-putting at first, I ended up loving the internal whiplash I was feeling watching this.
Even for a film set in Vietnam in modern day, with some chunks taking place during war in 1971, Lee manages to insert plenty of social and political commentary, and I wouldn't have it any other way! The blood spilled in the past still flows to this day, the sins committed in the name of something that seemed right still not forgiven. People sacrificed their souls for a pointless war and it led to no change. Good people advocated against war and violence, and they got shot down. Men try to follow their earnest intentions, but greed is always stronger.
The film is jam-packed thematically, and weirdly enough it manages to juggle all of those quite well. The atrocities committed in Vietnam are still ringing true to this day, as well as how those very things affected people of color, and it is chilling to see just how appropriate the timing for the release of this film is.
The different looks that Lee gives to the four main portions of the film are impressive and the transitions between one another smooth. The prologue and epilogue are shot in conventional letterboxing, lots of medium shots. The flashbacks are in a 4:3 aspect ratio, colored like Vietnam news footage and mostly using handheld. The key portion of the film, once the adventure starts, opens up to a glorious full-screen, with plenty of wide shots and beautiful vistas of the Vietnamese jungle and countryside. There are many references to classic war films, but the main ones (which have been pointed out by many, as they are also front and center both visually, thematically, and even in the dialogue) are Apocalypse Now and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, central to the portrayal of an unjust war and the corruption that gold has on men respectively.
The cast is packed with great performances. The easy standout is Delroy Lindo, a PTSD-ridden veteran with conflicting ideologies and a passionate desire to find peace in himself. He and the rest of the 5 Bloods have tremendous chemistry, the opening of the film showing how well they play off each other, and the relationship with his son who joins him on their quest is the emotional core of the film. It was nice to see Jean Reno again in a film, and the small group led by Mélanie Thierry was a welcome addition that adds to the tension and uncertainties of the second half.
While the film is beautiful visually and with great visual effects, it also has a killer soundtrack to boot. Many Marvin Gaye songs play through the film, an acapella rendition of "What's Going On" especially sending chills down my spine. Terence Blanchard, one of Spike's regulars, delivers one of the best scores of the year, adhering to classic orchestral war films and soul music.
The adherence and homage to war films in general is at the core of Da 5 Bloods. It is equal parts a deconstruction and subversion of Vietnam war films, as well as ultimately adding to the mythos and cinematic output with newfound vigor and vision. An important film for this time, at times brutal and without shying away from footage of real atrocities (both in the USA and Vietnam). Some of the more audacious filmmaking choices I have seen in a major motion picture, which made this a joy to watch and a really powerful film under many aspects. Easily one of the year's best!
Visual Effects: 8.5
Violence & Gore: 8
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 4.5