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Spike Lee lights a fire with “Da 5 Bloods”

You can never accuse Spike Lee of making movies that aren’t completely of the moment. It’s like he’s so caught up in the zeitgeist that his movies come fully formed with a fist in the air and a chant on the lips, ready to provoke just as much anger in viewers as Lee feels every day. “Do the Right Thing” is over 30 years old and seems like it could have been made yesterday. “Malcolm X” still crackles with righteous energy. “He Got Game” is the finest movie ever made about basketball and fatherhood. “Clockers” is a gut punch of rage at systemic corruption in the New York Police Department. Across 24 movies and three decades of filmmaking, Lee has never once taken the easy road as a filmmaker.

“Da Five Bloods” is Lee’s second war film after 2008’s flawed but fascinating “Miracle at St. Anna,” trading in the desaturated grime of WWII for the gritty green jungles of Vietnam. Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin are four aging members of a squad of soldiers (dubbed “Da Bloods”) who head back to Vietnam to search for the body of their squad leader, Norman, and for a locker full of gold bars they stashed 45 years earlier. 
click to enlarge A still from Da 5 Bloods. - NETFLIX FILMS
  • Netflix Films
  • A still from Da 5 Bloods.

While most of the movie takes place in modern day and follows the men searching the jungle for gold and their beloved fallen brother, there are also flashbacks to the war (filmed in glorious and grainy Super-8) and the events leading to the death of Norman (played by the fierce Chadwick Boseman). Watching the ex-soldiers navigating their own past while desperately hunting for some stake in the future is at turns intense, heartbreaking and haunting.
Delroy Lindo has been a powerhouse of an actor for decades, with unforgettable performances in movies including “Clockers” and “Malcolm X,” but in “Da 5 Bloods,” Lee has gifted him with the role of his career as Paul, a MAGA hat-wearing conservative with PTSD who starts losing his mind the moment he sets foot back in the jungle. He considers himself to be a broken man, desperate for redemption in not only bringing home the bones of Norman to be interred in Arlington Cemetery, but also to bring home enough gold to be in control of his own life for the first time. Lindo is mesmerizing, making Paul a living, breathing human instead of the grotesque caricature he would have been in lesser hands.

At 156 minutes, “Da 5 Bloods” is messy, frenzied, vital and astoundingly timely. Lee draws a perfectly straight line from the Vietnam of the 1970s to the Black Lives Matter movement of today and releases a howl of frustration, pain and rage throughout every second of the film’s runtime. This movie is Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” writ large as a reminder that Black bodies have always stood between us and war—and to ignore that is to submit to the racist narrative pushed by politicians.

As Lee has aged, his fury has become tempered. In 2018, when the brutally powerful “Sorry to Bother You,” and “Blindspotting” both came out, “BlackKklansman” almost seemed tepid in comparison. But with “Da 5 Bloods,” his anger is palpable and infuses every frame with life and meaning. The film isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t aspire to be. It has too much to say and not enough time to say it, so every scene is overstuffed with ideas and subtext that could be food for an entire film, not just a single moment.

In a way, I’m glad this is a Netflix Original instead of a theatrical release, because the film is getting the attention it deserves. As nice as it would have been to see “Da 5 Bloods” on the big screen, watching it from home feels luxurious and even more immediate. This movie is now, right now, and it has something to tell you.

Da 5 Bloods Dir. Spike Lee
Grade: A-
Now Playing on Netflix

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