Da 5 Bloods opens with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’ as a signature Spike Lee montage shapes the screen. Images of Black soldiers in Vietnam are spliced with speeches from Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, and more. Infamous archive material of war-time violence, Black poverty, murder at the hand of law enforcement, among further inclusions elevate the poignancy and applicability. Both of what is seen on screen and heard through Gaye’s lyrics warn of war and the injustices served by the corrupt American system. The opening holds nothing back and sets a precedent for what will go on to be one of Lee’s most powerful films to date.
Four Black veterans, grizzled yet enlightened, return to present-day Vietnam to seek the remains of their fallen squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), and the gold fortune he helped them hide long ago. They are met with reminders of their past, psychological challenges, and Vietnamese forces trying to reclaim their supposed gold. The war is long over and perspectives on what rightfully belongs to whom have far evolved. However, these not so retired soldiers soon learn that ideologies in a world post-Trump presidency go beyond expectation.
Lee is playing with a lot of elements. The two and a half-hour Netflix release is very experimental with its use of the self-reflexive, multiple aspect ratios, cinematography (use of differing film stocks), and utilization of montage. While this may seem a little chaotic in its unorthodox approach, it stays true to Lee’s vision and Da 5 Bloods ultimately creates a style of its own. There is no such chaos to the film and what is told is a deeply personal story that will surely be as relevant as ever today. Simply put, it moves the viewer to tears.
Incredibly authoritative, Lee conforms to nothing but his own style. It is shot with such beauty, grit, and passion. Jumping back to the days of Vietnam with the Bloods and Stormin’ Norman, there is a quality in the colors that oozes with visuals associated with memories. Furthermore, Lee’s trademark dolly shot will make many smirk in admiration. The cinematography is consistently gorgeous and Lee’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. There are so many beautifully symbolic moments that linger on the mind.
The brotherhood and bond between the Bloods themselves are unlike anything Lee has put to screen. Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, and Boseman are beyond incredible. The performances are so true one almost forgets that they are acting. Lee has routed out the inner Shakespearean in this band of five. It is partially through these performances and the film’s meticulous, poetic screenplay that pure life is given to this new masterwork.
The mission is to find Norman’s corpse, bring it home, and retrieve the gold. Along the way, there is violent interference which provides some flashes of brutal bloodshed. The action can be blood-filled and gory, providing a heightened approach that highlights the drastic nature of war. Naturally, with all the violence, deaths occur and some will leave the viewer in momentary shock. Though there is one sincerely beautiful occurrence in the latter part of the film that will leave plenty with floods of tears. Within all of the bloodshed of war, what really remains prominent is the Blood’s connection and ringing love for each other. Even beyond death, their bonds remain intact and flourishing.
What is most exceptional is how well the film balances its tones. It is both hilariously witty and provocative. There are many laughs that lead on from grand moments of levity. It is this control from both the actors and filmmakers that complete the film. Delroy Lindo has a blistering Oscar-worthy juncture towards the end, while Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) proves to be a performer full of riches once more. Additionally, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr. deserve to be rightly involved in future award conversations.
To not mention Lee’s use of music is almost criminal. Giddiness and pure joy is felt when Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ plays in a Vietnamese club as the crew dance their way across the dance floor. Music and cinema combined create a feeling like no other and in this case, it reinvigorates the soul. The music of Gaye is the music of dreams that can make anybody want to dance. Motown founder Berry Gordy once hailed Gaye as “the truest artist” he has ever known, an uncompromising force that defined soul music. His songs are of pure essence and the way they are featured in Da 5 Bloods is almost like its own voice or character. Gaye’s lyrics create a portion of the most beautiful, honest, and tragic moments in Lee’s new refined work.
Provocative and thoughtful, Da 5 Bloods is Spike Lee in top form. An unruly work of cinema, there is an inherent admiration for the stylistics and inner workings of the film. The combination of artistry with the liberation of a robust voice will undoubtedly reach the hearts of thousands across the globe.