Nicole Dupré’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Bloods don’t die, we multiply.”
Da 5 Bloods is a fascinating commentary on the immoral war in Vietnam and continuum of trauma that black veterans are subject to because of it. it sends several messages. Da 5 Bloods looks at themes of loyalty, brotherhood, the evils of money and how life can be an unending war in itself.
The film is very educational, it almost functions as a documentary to get the political message across, using real footage of brutalised bodies in order to hit its point home. Though shocking, Spike Lee chooses to show his audience the impact of war and how reckless the US operation in Vietnam was. Lee’s direction is thoughtful, the cinematography and color palette aren’t my favourite but I guess it reflects the grungy environment they were in well enough.
As for the cast, Chadwick Boseman sparkles as Stormin Normin, the heatbreat of Da 5 Bloods Clarke Peters brings his swagger but Delroy Lindo absolutely steals the show and must be a shoe-in for an Oscar nom. He was the embodiment of the angst Spike Lee was trying to get across. That. Monologue. Despite these performances, for a lot of the film I felt little to nothing for the characters. It’s is 2.5hrs long but doesn’t take out the time to really explore the Bloods as people. My emotional ties and empathy came from a place of understanding as a black person more than the story. For example, this film expects you to give a shit about two shoehorned love interests but neither hit any sort of emotional beat for me.
I’m not sure whether Spike Lee had the same access to De-Ageing technology like Scorsese did but using the same actors in flashbacks 40 years prior was an interesting choice. Interesting because honestly it’s a little weird, but moreso because using the same actors instead of younger versions of the Bloods allows you to think of flashbacks as vivid memories. The fact Norman looks young and they all look older speaks to this. These are their last memories of Norman, he never got to age. Another feature of them looking their current age in the war flashbacks is that it really hammers home the theme of 'war that never ends' and is actually pretty powerful because it’s not just the Vietnam war, but it’s racial injustice, it’s economic disparity, it’s a blatantly discriminatory government and it’s a commentary on enemies within the police state. Relevant.
The Bloods, especially Lindo's ‘Paul’, had not been able to move on from the horror - making the beautiful and somewhat ethereal scene with Lindo and Boseman towards the end almost like the bridge between memories and the present day.
Honestly speaking, the Da 5 Bloods could’ve been better. As invested I was in the actual adventure and underlying themes, I feel that it was a little overlong and around the hour mark I was wondering what they needed the other 1.5 for. That said, at no point did I ever want to stop watching, I was always fully engaged. External factors like the janky cutting, constant tonal shifts and iffy sound mixing despite a great score from the brilliant Terrence Blanchard... did taken me out of it sometimes though.
I thank Spike for documenting the black experience in Vietnam and in general after returning from war, which resonates with the diaspora country to country. You don’t get that often.
Rest in Peace Chadwick. You meant so much to us. 🤍🕊