Some films whisper subtle nuances and invite quiet contemplation. Some films are trash cans thrown through windows. On the basketball court and in the director’s chair, Spike Lee is at his best when he’s screaming, and Da 5 Bloods is an absolute holler. It is a messy, overwrought, tonally inconsistent, finger-wagging-in-your-face cinematic lecture, which makes it just the best kind of Spike Lee Joint.
It’s never “what” but “how” with Lee’s work, and Da 5 Bloods is one hell of a how. Four Black veterans of the Vietnam War return to that country to bring home the remains of a comrade. Oh, and while they’re there, they may as well just grab a fortune in gold bars that they hid decades prior… If you expect a treasure hunt, you’ll be as disappointed as someone who believes the founding fathers really meant all people when they wrote their Declaration.
Instead, Da 5 Bloods is a brutal cocktail of equal parts Shakespearean tragedy, outrage at Black oppression, and almost cartoonishly grotesque violence. The film does not invite questions about America repeatedly throwing Black bodies into meat grinders without remorse; instead, it asks you why you have chosen to ignore that fact for so long and if you’ll be paying the debt in gold bars. Bookended by explicit historical context, the only way to miss Lee’s point is to do so on purpose.
Speaking of purposeful, a logistical restriction actually produces the film’s best effect. As Lee said in interviews, he knew that he wasn’t going to be given “Martin Scorsese money” to de-age his actors for their war flashbacks. Instead of using lookalike younger actors, Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr all play themselves in both present day and in aspect-ratio-warped Nam memories. The effect is transcendent and haunting. Like everything else in the film, it is an unmissable metaphor for the fact those men never really left Vietnam. When it comes to memories, Da 5 Bloods also serves as a reminder that nostalgia leans heavily into white privilege.
Every review of Da 5 Bloods legally has to talk about how Delroy Lindo simply must be nominated for an Oscar. His Black MAGA character is hands down the year’s most memorable thus far, and his third act monologuing is so good, IMDB should officially remove The Core from his filmography. The fiery, unfair relationship between Lindo’s character, Paul, and his son, David (Jonathan Majors), breathes new life into the tired “sins of the father” trope that has dominated storytelling since that time Cain thought his daddy liked Abel better.
No, Da 5 Bloods is not neat and tidy. It is not born of clean narrative lines and A-to-B-to-C plotting. It is wild. It is furious. It is pumping with the lifeblood of righteous indignation that makes it impossible to ignore. With its explicit references to Apocalypse Now, Lee’s Vietnam flick isn’t paying an homage; it is demanding a place at the cultural table. It deserves one near the head of it.
Grade = A
Other Critical Voices to Consider on Da 5 Bloods