Directed by: Spike Lee
Premise: A group of African American Vietnam War veterans return to the site of the conflict to collect the remains of a fallen comrade and a stash of gold bars that were hidden in the jungle.
What Works: Da Five Bloods is a complicated story. The narrative isn’t terribly sophisticated; it’s a mostly straightforward tale of four survivors reuniting after decades and carrying out a promise to each other. But Da Five Bloods is complex in its themes and characterizations. The four African American veterans gather together in the place where they had been at war in their youth and the film is partly about trauma and coping with the repercussions of wartime experience. Da Five Bloods is also about aging and adjusting to change and that idea aligns neatly with the veterans’ traumas. These men are stuck between the past and present and that concept is handled with intelligence and sophistication. Racial identity adds another layer to the film. The four veterans are African American and the film addresses the complexity and contradictions of the black experience, namely the way young African American men fought and died for a country in which their citizenship was second class. The way these men think about themselves and the war is focused through that lens and Da Five Bloods is also about the variety within the African American experience with the characters sharing a past but having processed it in different ways, setting them on radically different trajectories in their post-war lives. All of this complicated character and thematic work is set within a story of men going back into the field to find the remains of a fallen comrade and the gold they buried decades ago. The film doesn’t stop to pontificate; the issues are worked out organically through the narrative in a way that is satisfying and intelligent.
What Doesn’t: The score to Da Five Bloods was provided by Terence Blanchard who is a longtime collaborator with filmmaker Spike Lee. As is sometimes the case with Blanchard’s scores, the music of Da Five Bloods is overbearing and distracting. The music occasionally overpowers the images or doesn’t quite mesh with what’s happening on screen. Da Five Bloods runs 154 minutes and the film is a little too long. The pacing gets a little sluggish in the final stretch. The energy subsides just before and after the climax and in the ending Spike Lee can’t help but hammer the contemporary political point, spelling it out in a coda sequence that is unnecessary.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: There have been a lot of Vietnam War films but Da Five Bloods manages to find a unique angle on the material. It’s a film that looks back on the war, crisscrossing the characters’ past and present, and in doing so it clarifies our own relationship to that era.
Episode: #810 (July 26, 2020)