Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods
I’ve not had the chance to watch a Spike Lee directed piece that I’ve fully enjoyed. Not yet, anyway, there are a few pieces of his filmography that look superb. Do the Right Thing was a dud, the Oldboy remake was a spit in the face of an overblown, overrated original, and Blackkklansman was just alright. Maybe I’ve just hit upon all the wrong films, or maybe it’s just that Spike Lee isn’t a decent director. Da 5 Bloods, his latest piece for the Netflix titan, brings Vietnam right back to the forefront of filmmaking, like in the 1980s when every other film was an Oliver Stone piece about the atrocities of warfare. Only this time, Da 5 Bloods presents a story of returning to the battlefield, to reclaim treasures people fought and died for.
To put it into perspective, Da 5 Bloods follows a group of Vietnam veterans who return to the jungles in which they once fought to retrieve not just a bountiful amount of gold, but the remains of their friend, Norman. What follows is a reprisal of old Vietnam tropes, the PTSD afflicted, ageing men that fought for a country that wanted nothing to do with them is a great angle for the film to take, setting it out from being “just another anti-war film”. But it’s the lack of depth presented by this story that provides us with the slippery slope of predictability. Delroy Lindo’s performance as Paul is by far the best of the film, but even he is afflicted with a case of one-note backstory syndrome, the conflict of the past catching up to him as he ventures through the jungle with his former squad.
Flashbacks to the Vietnam war are more or less a necessity in a case like this, it’s just a shame that they’re not handled with care. Changing the aspect ratio and crop of the camera is a very nice way of telling us which period we’re meant to be in, but it never provides any emotion or significant layer to the story. It’s a repetitive gag that wears off quickly, as we loiter around with Chadwick Boseman and the inane, bland dialogue that regurgitates slogans, cliché lines that don’t do anything to highlight the real interest of these characters. Da 5 Bloods soon devolves into a cacophony of ill-fitting moments, a slew of character arcs that don’t quite make sense and are just a tad predictable. There have been a few comparing Da 5 Bloods to the likes of Apocalypse Now, but it feels more like Tropic Thunder than anything else.
Lee’s direction kills most of the momentum Da 5 Bloods has. A stone-cold killer of interest, we’re strapped into a muddled film that throws far too much at its audience with no real way of connecting it all together. Romantic subplots that never quite go anywhere, or are just forgotten about entirely. Jean Reno shows up briefly, which is always nice to see, but he’s not fleshed out enough to provide any sort of interesting support to our leading characters. Boseman is stuck in the past, and his performance doesn’t provide anything extra to what a few lines of dialogue have already added in the prelude to his appearance.
Political point-scoring without the grasp of anything original or helpful, welded into a story so poorly directed and rushed across its two-and-a-half-hour spectacle of Vietnam, Da 5 Bloods is miserably boring at the best of times. A handful of decent performances crop up from time to time, but Lee lacks the confident directing required to bring together a story that comments on the atrocities of the Vietnam war and the imbalance found in American society. A clunky hand behind the camera makes for a tonally ugly film that hides within it moments of genuine interest. Loud and messy, an important message drowned out by poor stylistic choices and a squandered plot of avenging fallen friends.