Da 5 Bloods
12th June 2020 (Netflix Premiere)
Four African American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.
Chadwick Boseman, Jean Reno, Paul Walter Hauser, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Jasper Pääkkönen
It’s either a blessing or a curse that Da 5 Bloods was released in such a timely manner. With everything that’s currently going on in the world, I found it almost impossible to separate the film completely from reality, although I certainly tried. For my money it, unfortunately, made the film seem much heavier handed than it perhaps was, but one could equally argue it enhancing and enriching the power of the story. All that aside, Da 5 Bloods is a wild and arguably messy piece of work that can be admired for its sheer hubris and committed performances, but discredited with how at odds with itself it sometimes feels.
Da 5 Bloods begins as an amusing if slightly unbelievable treasure hunt meets hang-out movie, as 4 ageing Vietnam war veterans return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader who acted as their friend and mentor. They aim to bring his body home as well as recover millions of dollars in gold bars which they buried back in the war from a botched mission. This first act treasure hunt is the strongest part of the film: we see these old friends sharing playful banter that suggests a light comedy approach, but underneath there’s a deeply felt drama as the 4 men reflect on the war and the racial injustices of past and present. Their dialogue is fantastically natural and the actors sell their 40-year friendship perfectly. It’s also the part of the film I was most interested in, but unfortunately, the film itself didn’t agree with me.
Director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman) is known for playful gear shifts in tone. Da 5 Bloods has this in spades but to its detriment over success. Around the hour mark, the search for their squad leader and treasure is seemingly over yet we have another 90 minutes to go. The film then drastically shifts tone in a scene involving a minefield that felt so out of place and cold to me, sucking all the potential emotion the story had been building. If you remember the tonal shift at the end of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood, it’s that exact thing. Except for the rest of Da 5 Bloods runtime. By the end, it honestly strays into direct-to-DVD action film territory, with overly long, boring, and poorly structured shootouts. It truly feels like 2 totally different films stitched together.
Whether I’m missing the point I can’t say. I do appreciate the artistic freedom and creativity the film has because it’s so obviously made with passion. There are flashbacks that change the aspect ratio of the screen and there’s the dramatic conceit of not ageing down the principal actors in these flashbacks. It’s enjoyably playful in those terms. The soundtrack and extensive use of Marvin Gaye also fits perfectly and made listening to the film more worthwhile than watching it. Delroy Lindo (Malcolm X, Gone in 60 seconds) steals the show as the xenophobic, greedy PTSD sufferer Paul. But then you also have to contend with Jean Reno (Leon, Ronin) playing a B-movie villain. Saying it’s a mixed bag is putting it lightly.
Another thing people should know before watching Da 5 Bloods is that it contains pictures and footage of real-life atrocities and death. The famous “Napalm Girl” and “Saigon Execution” photos are shown (amongst others) in full video footage, which is rarely seen because of its incredibly graphic nature. It’s something to be aware of as no amount of movie violence can ever come close to replicating the true horror of war. The images have certainly been playing on my mind somewhat since watching the film.
Despite fantastic performances all around and respect for its unconventional nature, Da 5 Bloods is too disjointed, making it difficult to understand and engage with. It’ starts out promising enough, but it’s constant tonal shifts left me bemused and cold.
Da 5 Bloods is available to stream now on Netflix.
Strong performances from entire cast
Sheer audacity of it demands respect
Feels like multiple films taped together
Insane tonal shifts feel inorganic
Some straight-to-DVD, long-winded action