'Da 5 Bloods' Review—Engaging and Timely
I typically have something witty to say in my introductory paragraph. However, I can't think of anything funny at the moment, so imagine that the beginning of this review is some witty remark.
Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods is a war drama about four African-American veterans who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader and the gold they had stashed away in the forest. As usual with Lee's films, this movie has a lot of racial commentaries, and like his previous film, BlacKkKlansman, it features a few references to our current political climate.
The film's opening sequence consists of archival footage of racial violence during our history and some of the grotesque events that have happened to African-Americans and Asian-Americans. From these moments, this film pulls us into the screen, and we begin a captivating drama that combines a fun journey with a lot of gripping character depth.
Lee has a unique voice behind the camera. He manages to tell stories that are entertaining and fascinating at the same time. His films are accessible for mainstream audiences and deep enough for the slightly more snooty film critic. Da 5 Bloods is no exception, with a movie that can best be described as engaging and timely.
Our main characters are larger-than-life presences on screen, and it's a joy to watch them interact with each other. Their conversations and interactions with others are consistently fascinating and watching the way PTSD affects these Vietnam veterans decades after the war is gripping.
The film also does a great job of illustrating the tensions that remained between Vietnamese people and African-Americans, as they were pulled into fighting a war against a group of people. It's fascinating to see how both groups of people grew up with racist beliefs about the other and the unjustness of these ideologies.
Lee tells the story in a mesmerizing way. For the first section of the film, when our main characters are in present-day Vietnam, the aspect ratio is 2.35:1. However, we occasionally have flashback sequences to the Vietnam War, and these scenes are in 4:3 to match the standard aspect ratio of the 1950s-1970s.
When the characters reenter the jungle in Vietnam, the aspect ratio expands to 16:9, taking up the whole screen and becoming a different movie in its feel. These aspect ratio transitions make the tonal transitions much more seamless as the film jumps around through different periods.
The film's premise is a bit reminiscent of last year's Netflix original, Triple Frontier, as both films revolve around soldiers entering foreign territory after years of service to collect a large sum of money for themselves. However, Lee's execution is superior, as he delves more into these characters through sharp dialogue and relevant messages.
For example, the character of Paul is a Trump supporter who spends most of the film in a MAGA hat. His friends do not share these views, with one character calling Trump a Klansman. These differing beliefs do not draw a rift between decades-old friends, but Paul's political views make specific actions later a bit more layered.
As for the issues with this otherwise well-crafted film, the pacing can suffer under the long runtime, and some scenes feel a bit long or unnecessary. Besides Paul, the characters do not stand out amongst each other, and Lee made an odd decision to have the same actors play their younger counterparts without makeup or de-aging CGI, which can be a bit confusing.
But there is a magnetic pull to the scenes in this film. The story does not consistently move forward, but it's never a boring movie with these performances and character journeys. The film has a strong emotional core at its center, and of course, Lee delves into racial injustices like no other filmmaker working today.