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Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods Is A Furious, Timely Vietnam War Epic

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Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods Is A Furious, Timely Vietnam War EpicNetflix

The ‘time has come today’ for Spike Lee’s anti-escapist Vietnam joint; a furious, gruesome crusade into America’s heart of darkness. 

Equating impeccable diatribe to timing seems reductionist. Although, worldwide unrest sparked by police brutality at the whim of racial prejudice… we could have just screamed abraca-Da-bra.

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In one shot, three soldiers stand immortalised in bronze; place-less idols lost in a monument to jingoism – it’s an All Lives Matter wet dream. Lee re-contextualises the rage of ‘Nam’s inhumanity to man through the ecstasy of gold, Trump’s shadow and, of course, the horror, the horror.

Check out the trailer for Da 5 Bloods below:

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To offer rudimentary simplification, think The World’s End meets The Treasure of Sierra Madre. But Lee’s first Netflix feature is a far more compelling, deliriously whirligig work than any snappy summary can truly quantify. In a fractured sphere, he’s bottled anger; you dig?

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The film tracks the reunion of the titular Big Red One bloods; Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), a jovial metal detector who talks ‘shiiiiit’, and Eddie (Norm Lewis), a wealthy car dealership tycoon with a suspicious grin and card-swiping generosity.

Da 5 BloodsNetflix

Then there’s Otis (Clarke Peters), a level-headed charmer with unexpected business from his courtships in war, and Paul (Delroy Lindo), a MAGA hat-wearing, PTSD-battling veteran embittered with a life of bad luck, yet to fully come home from hell. Paul’s estranged son, David (Jonathan Majors), also tags along.

They’ve came together in Saigon for two goals: recover the remains of their fallen leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who they lost in the heat of battle; and dig up a cache of US gold they buried for safe-keeping, originally intended to secure Vietnamese alliance. For the bloods, it’s reparations for ‘every Black boot that didn’t make it home’.

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Chadwick Boseman Da 5 BloodsNetflix

Lee, in collaboration with cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, converges between two timelines; the vivid, widescreen now and the gonzo, narrow aspect ratio of the past, where our platoon battles the elements, Viet Cong and moral anguish. In a heated exchange, the notion of mutiny arises upon news of Martin Luther King’s assassination from the airwaves’ Hannoi Hannah (played sublimely by Veronica Ngo).

The transitions are often dazzling, assembling a heady cocktail of old-school pizzazz (needn’t worry about CGI on grain) and evolving storytelling packed with punches; in one crossover, we step from gold bricks to the golden arches of McDonald’s, united in capitalist woes.

Da 5 Bloods Netflix
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Visually, as the screen opens to the fire-tinged sun and open green fields, it evokes the solemnity of The Thin Red Line, with a little Del Ruth warmth à la Stand By Me. But Lee doesn’t skimp on violence, this is as bloody as any good war picture, with bullet-rupturing wounds constantly spluttering (as well as the goriest moment the director’s ever put to screen).

The Vietnam tropes are there; the twang of The Chambers Brothers, an upstream journey from Ho Chi Minh City, Ride of the Valkyries. Hell, they even go to an Apocalypse Now bar for drunken jollity before setting off on the treasure hunt. Cinematic references galore, yes, but Lee’s vision of war isn’t a tribute; it’s richly-layered prose (with a lyrical use of ‘motherf*cker’).

Da 5 Bloods Netflix

Take a moment during the 154-minute runtime (it flies in) to appreciate the rousing composition from quintessential Lee collaborator, Terence Blanchard; classic in a very similar vein to his BlacKkKlansman score, albeit with a more lively sense of adventure. Plus, there’s an intoxicating, cherry-picked selection of Marvin Gaye tracks, such as Inner City Blues.

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The first half is mostly standard fare – hugs, banter and flashbacks. There’s a pure admiration for brotherhood, personified through Boseman’s heart-achingly noble ‘real hero’. Rambo ain’t sh*t. Not one blood fares badly; Whitlock and Lewis may not get huge development, but they aren’t the focal point. Peters is hampered with a loose plot-thread, but stands steadfast amid the storm with an earnest, charismatic turn.

Da 5 Bloods Spike LeeNetflix

But with the click of a plate, Lee upends the road movie into deeper, more timely territory; verging between meditation on the loss of black innocence amid disproportionate conscription and death, and polemic on the nation’s horn for imperialism.

There’s the odd dip in momentum as the serpentine story goes a bit nuts. However, this is where Lindo leaps into career-best form; surely the early-frontrunner for, dare I say it during uncertain times, the Oscar next year.

Delroy Lindo Da 5 BloodsNetflix

While astutely written by Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott, the Malcolm X actor sketches an agonised portrait of a man afflicted by death and trauma, caught somewhere between yearning for love and loner-dom, reliving a nightmare from which he can’t awake. Atop the cast, he shines in not one, but two straight-to-camera soliloquies.

Speaking of, there’s a wide array of supporting names that beef up the roster: BlacKkKlansman alumni Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Pääkkönen (no ‘circumstanced’ dicks); Jean Reno as a French, money-loving smuggler; and a likeable Mélanie Thierry in a role Julie Delpy-esque role – don’t worry, there’s no plantation detours.

Da 5 Bloods With Spike LeeNetflix

You can’t manoeuvre Lee’s wrath. The opening montage spells it out; a show-reel of America’s guilt, whether it be their pursuit of national pride on ‘Da Moon’ or the synergy of Vietnam’s atrocities (such as Trảng Bàng’s napalm bombings) and black deaths under the stars and stripes. In the jungle, they were simply two sides of an oppressed coin, dishing bloodshed for good old Uncle Sam.

Part-prestige war picture, part-attack on the ‘Klansmen in the Oval Office’, this is a fascinating, blistering post-Coppola vision of Vietnam’s immorality from America’s fieriest observer. Right on, right on.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Topics: Featured, Chadwick Boseman, Film, Netflix, Now, Review

Cameron Frew
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