Da 5 Bloods (2020) Review

June 11, 2020 (Last updated: last month)
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews, Netflix


Da 5 Bloods leaves you uneasy and vulnerable. Lee’s themes extend far beyond our borders and, for that matter, much closer within our own circles. It’s harsh poetry on the battle against hate.

Directed by Spike Lee, we review the 2020 Netflix movie Da 5 Bloods (2020), which does not contain significant spoilers. 

Spike Lee has never been a filmmaker you can peg unless it’s that reputation to stand outside the box instead of inside it firmly. In the same sense, Martin Scorsese pathologically holds your attention with images that should make you turn away. Lee does this by toying with classic cinematic genres while blending them with modern themes and eye-opening visuals.

It’s his talent, really; he can take a primary heist picture and turn it into an art-house war film on race relations that was completed well before the events of what has transpired in this country a few short weeks ago.

He can see the truth before most of us are finished tying our shoes. There is so much going on in his new film, Da 5 Bloods, visually, thematically, and spiritually. You can’t possibly absorb all of it in a single viewing. It’s not comfortable or conventional, but it’s a hard look at race relations that extends far beyond our borders and much closer within our circles. The battle is still brewing, the war is not over, and there is an endless amount of work to be done.

Da 5 Bloods Review and Plot Summary

The story follows four African American veterans who reunite for a trip to Vietnam in the hopes of bringing home their fallen friend. That man was their former squad commander, Norman (Chadwick Boseman), a man remembered as a fearless leader, not just on the battlefield but for the war being waged at home.

Among the group is Paul (an outstanding Delroy Lindo), the outspoken member of the group who wants that wall to be built and proudly wears a MAGA hat for all to see. Otis (The Wire’s Clarke Peters) is the squad’s former medic and is still the glue that holds the group together, while Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) keeps the guys howling with laughter. Eddie (Norm Lewis) has been the most successful group, a titan of the industry since leaving the service, and is paying for everyone’s trip. Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors), the surprise visitor who tags along, figures out the group is not just altruistically bringing back their friend’s remains but grabbing their reparations of gold they hid decades previously.

Lee shares screenplay credits with BlacKkKlansman writing partner Kevin Willmott, along with two others, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, who share credits on The Rocketeer, making for compelling but unusual bedfellows when you consider the latter’s history with comic book and video game writing. The rumor is the script was supposed to be directed by Oliver Stone, who stepped out, and was rewritten through the eyes of an African-American experience with Vietnam.

You have to think the script would have been a rudderless picture about the spoils of war, but the new perspective turns the genre into something fresh and unexpected. They sprinkle thought-provoking ideas stunning images and turn the narrative upside down, not just on their audience, but their characters too, and just when you think you are about to settle on the film’s message. It leaves you uneasy and vulnerable.

There are three performances here that I hope will be remembered later this year, but one I am sure will be forgotten. Delroy Lindo has been one of the most underappreciated actors of his generation. He was ignored by his studio for A Cider House Rules, the Emmys for his role in The Good Fight, and his performance in Lee’s Clockers is now legendary. He carries the film with a burning intensity and ferocious anger demanding to be heard.

Jonathan Majors, so unfairly ignored during awards season last year for The Last Black Man in San Francisco, is undeniably moving. Lastly, Clarke Peters, who starred in Lee’s Red Hook Summer, juggles being a stoic, calming presence and then delivering dialogue that cuts deep and often; the man deserves more screen time like this in major films.

Like many of Lee’s movies — you can spot a dozen or so through his filmography — Da 5 Bloods can be heavy-handed instead of letting the power of message sneak up on you, a point I would argue was much more effective in BlacKkKlansman. That is a flaw here when it magnifies the foreshadowing of knowing what will happen well before it transpires. Those are average complaints, and the positives far outperform the negatives.

I imagine some will complain about the film having flashback scenes of the four main characters looking as they are in the recent day — old, wrinkled, and grey next to a young Boseman. You have to remember here that this part of the story is an essential memory play, remembering Norman the way he was left and the squad putting themselves back on the battlefield.

Is the 2020 movie Da 5 Bloods good?

Da 5 Bloods is hardly mainstream filmmaking, no matter how much Netflix wants you to believe it. Sure, it has your comic relief (thank you, Isiah Whitlock Jr, for bringing back the catchphrase that made him famous on The Wire), but nothing about Lee’s latest makes you think it will be conformed to significant studio norms. What starts as a drama of former brothers in arms returning to Vietnam to bring back a friend and walk away with some cash the metaphor turns into harsh poetry on the battle against hate. I’m not sure if this joint is great art, but we know it should never be easy to swallow or enjoy. He is teaching that hate transcends friendships, families, countries, and even time, and he wants us to ask ourselves: What is our next move?

What did you think of the 2020 Netflix film Da 5 Bloods? Comment below!

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