Spike Lee knows da hood. He’s mastered urban landscapes. For this reason you might think he’d be out of his element in the jungles of Vietnam. Not so. In Da 5 Bloods, Spike transports you to a world you think you’ve seen before and then, like a local tour guide, opens up new vistas that render the place magically unfamiliar. The cinematography is noteworthy, the war footage engrossing, and with actual, original period clips from America’s turbulent 60s and 70s spliced in, the feel is authentic, if not plaintive, thanks to the hockey assist from the Motown dominated soundtrack heavy on Marvin Gaye. It’s one of several surprises in this original take on the “one last time” war buddy reclamation movie.
There are a couple of sphinxian plot points that will give nitpickers fodder but they’re quickly sucked into the RPMs of a movie that produces a thrilling, satisfying ride. The bulk of the story unfolds in today’s Vietnam, some 50 years after the Bloods’ last tour in the war, and they do present as perfectly plausible black-don’t-crack septuagenarians. It’s the flashback scenes that will demand exertion to suspend disbelief. These guys look old even in the war scenes, with Delroy Lindo’s Paul still sporting a gray beard when he was supposedly a teen! And in the second scene of the film you’ll think you’re flashing all the way back to a different movie as Lindo busts the same moves to the same song on the same Soul Train line in This Christmas!
Spike using a MAGA character to expose some of the psychology undergirding the peripheral phenomena of black Trumpmania is another surprise in this film. It’s a courageous and effective move on his part to provide depth in the story while at the same time anchoring it in the US despite it being set almost exclusively in Vietnam. The pursuit of the Benjamins drive the story forward, and in the end expose money as the root of all evil, but Lindo’s character reminds us that the movie is really about race in America, not honor in Vietnam.
The complexities of race and politics are layered in like lasagna, so even though they’re obvious, and the main points, they don’t become a distracting screed, but rather enhance the entire experience. Since you’ll likely be watching this at home get ready to use the pause button a couple of times for a restroom or snack break. The movie runs long but doesn’t drain or strain. By the time the 40A is iron stamped to this one the only thing you’ll be tired of is the way systemic racism permeates every institution and strata of American society. Sho nuff.