Combustible Celluloid
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With: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Veronica Ngo, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Lê Y Lan, Nguyễn Ngọc Lâm, Sandy Hương Phạm
Written by: Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, grisly images and pervasive language
Running Time: 154
Date: 06/12/2020

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gold Testament

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods is somewhat overcooked, with lots of outsized emotions and some sermoning, but it's still an immense, entertaining film, full-blooded and pulsing with righteous fury. It debuted on Netflix, June 12, 2020.

Four war buddies who fought in Vietnam reunite there. They are the tormented, angry Paul (Delroy Lindo), the kindly Otis (Clarke Peters), who re-connects with a prostitute he once knew, the pigeon-toed Eddie (Norm Lewis), who shows off his black Amex card, and laid-back Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). Their official business is to find the remains of their beloved squad leader (played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman), but their unofficial business is to collect a cache of buried gold.

Paul's son, Black history professor David (Jonathan Majors), unexpectedly shows up, and they are later joined by three humanitarians — Hedy (Mélanie Thierry), Simon (Paul Walter Hauser), and Seppo (Jasper Pääkkönen) — devoted to removing old landmines and bombs from the landscape. It's a long, brutal journey through the jungle, filled with various pitfalls, and exasperated by Paul's wild changes of mood (Lindo gives a monster performance).

Lee seems somewhat inspired by John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but also has plenty to say about Black involvement in the Vietnam War (referred to as the "American War" while abroad), as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (who opposed the war), and even Trump (a "MAGA" hat becomes an important prop). Lee uses all of his usual techniques to show images of King, Black war heroes, Black Lives Matter, and anything else that pops into his head. These techniques may be a bit obvious, but in Lee's hands, they feel right.

Terence Blanchard's thick, lavish score — sounding like beauty and sorrow entwined — makes the production seem even bigger, more melodramatic. His music over an early battle sequence elevates it to the level of opera. And several Marvin Gaye songs (most from the 1971 masterpiece What's Going On) add other emotional layers, especially an a cappella recording of the title track.

Despite its violence and rage, Da 5 Bloods is arguably one of Lee's most beautiful films, especially a showdown at a jungle temple. Indeed, the movie shows him riding high from the success of his BlacKkKlansman (2018). Tellingly, this is his second attempt at a war film, after Miracle at St. Anna (2008), and he appears far more confident here, more focused, supercharged and ready to keep on keeping on.

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