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Da 5 Bloods
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Spike Lee
scr Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
prd Lloyd Levin, Beatriz Levin, Jon Kilik, Spike Lee
with Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Chadwick Boseman, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Le Y Lan, Jean Reno
release US/UK 12.Jun.20
20/US Netflix 2h36
Watch it now...
Astoundingly timely, this new drama from Spike Lee explores the debt America owes to the people who built the nation and fought its wars. But it's not a preachy polemic; it's a warm, often funny and sometimes very intense story about four old friends. And while it feels long, encompassing multiple sprawling narratives, Lee's skilful filmmaking cleverly highlights history and culture using a range of astute references.
In present-day Saigon, Paul (Lindo) reunites with buddies Otis, Eddie and Melvin (Peters, Lewis and Whitlock) on a mission to find the body of Norman (Boseman), their platoon leader who was killed in the Vietnam War. They're also secretly hunting a stash of gold they left behind. As they reminisce, they're shocked to learn that Paul is now a right-wing bigot. Then his son David (Majors) turns up wanting his cut. As guide Vinh (Nguyen) leads their expedition up into the jungle, various complications send them in unexpected directions, forcing them to confront their motivations.
Lee cleverly punctuates moments with real-life icons, newsreel footage and nods to cinema. He shoots flashbacks in a striking period style, complete with practical effects, gritty violence, a surging score (by Terence Blanchard) and classic Marvin Gaye songs. And since the older actors play their younger selves without de-ageing trickery, it's clear that they're filtering memories through the prism of the movies. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel shoots other sequences in wide-screen grandeur or as bristly home movies.
Performances are wrenching, as these men confront pungent issues. Each actor is both witty and haunted, undercutting any sense of false nostalgia. Lindo has the most complex role, grappling with his messy politics and brittle father-son relationship with David, a skilful performance from Majors that holds its own among the veterans. Whitlock, Peters and Lewis have their moments as well. Boseman oozes charisma as their too-fondly remembered friend. And Thierry, Paakkonen and Hauser add strong textures as a multinational minesweeping team.
Lee also depicts the Vietnamese with a rare sense of balance and insight, feeding into larger themes about wilful arrogance and societal ignorance. The film is overlong, as the plot goes through several extended gyrations. But even the unnecessary sideroads add salient meaning (plus some exhilarating suspense) to the much bigger picture. At its core, this is a complex story about greed, specifically how the desire for money corrupts the brotherhood of humanity. And without sentiment, it shows that love is the only cure.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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