“You got me?”
“We got you, Blood.”
Pictures begin to appear onscreen, while footage of famous boxer, Muhammad Ali, asks why should he shoot these Vietnamese people? “They never set dogs on me, or lynched me.” It’s a history lesson, centered on the constant war that many black Americans face to this day. It’s no wonder so many have taken to the streets to protest against the social injustices that plague our society. Da 5 Bloods is only beginning, and yet it hits you straight in the face. A storytelling like no other, as director Spike Lee aims to give voice and power to the black people of the United States. More importantly, those men and women who have been on the receiving end of racism for decades. Those veterans who fought in the —pointless— Vietnam War, only to be “welcomed back” to a country that would continue to tear them down, and refuse them the basic civil rights they should be given. This… is Da 5 Bloods.
The film follows four friends who met on the battlefield, and though their friendship has become more and more distant of the years, they aren’t what I would necessarily call “estranged”. Now their journeys have led them back to Vietnam in order to retrieve the body of their fallen friend, Stormin’ Norman, as they like to call him. Though they have official government documents to travel through the jungles, left with the residue of napalm on the ground, they are not only there for Norman’s remains, but for a case of gold they found back during the war.
The four men are getting older, hiding the gray hairs under the hats they wear. There’s Otis (Clarke Peters), the one who has organized this trip, and the point of contact for getting the gold out of Vietnam and into the United States. There’s Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who aren’t in the business of hurting, or getting themselves killed in this lengthy process. Then there’s Paul (Delroy Lindo), a Trump Supporter, who’s fully stocked with a Make America Great Again cap, and who’s one step away from chanting “Build the Wall” at the top of his lungs. His friends give him a hard time about his political choices, but they soon find out that Paul’s not right. His mental anguish takes on an amplified form as the men reach Vietnam — Ho Chi Minh City to be specific. Paul continues to be haunted by Stormin’ Norman’s death, but it doesn’t help that he has gone through a string of traumatic events in his life — exposing his only son, David (Jonathan Majors), to the demons that invade his thoughts.
Simply talking about the performances, wouldn’t give these actors justice. Each one leaves everything on the table in terms of giving it their all. But it’s Lindo’s performance as Paul, that makes Da 5 Bloods explode. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an actor submerge themselves into their role as much as Lindo does here. There’s a point in the film between Paul, David, and some rope, which nearly brought me to tears. Paul’s crippling mental state begins to alter, and though he may have a moment of clarity, his demons engulf his mind once again, forcing him to fall further into a downward spiral of insanity. This scene leads me to say, as great as Lindo is, Jonathan Majors is sublime. Lindo and Majors offer a glimpse into the dynamic of this father and son relationship — adding a new element, and talking point, for the film.
Da 5 Bloods’ social commentary does not hide behind symbols, or linger in the shadows of the story. It’s at the forefront. The injustices that these men face, not only in war, but in their return to the United States, is the basis for this story. There’s a constant revealing that the war may not be over for the black communities. In fact, the point is made that this fight has gone on for far too long. But even if one were to set those social commentaries aside, Da 5 Bloods would still be a well-made movie, not as impactful, but still well-made. Lee’s achievements as a director have graced our screens since the mid-80s — escalating the narrative of “Black Lives Matter” throughout his more recent films, and the Da 5 Bloods is no different. Lee continues to show us that, even after many years, his filmmaking is only getting better.
With the increased concern, and protesting of police brutalities and injustices towards the blacks in our communities, Da 5 Bloods could not have come at a more important time in our history. Every element that went into making this film, produces something special — near perfection. Though the film runs at just a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes, it can feel a bit daunting — especially at the beginning. But once Da 5 Bloods gets going, it invades your body —overtaking you — as you watch the traumas of these four men unfold.
Da 5 Bloods
Directed by: Spike Lee
Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, and Paul Walter Hauser