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Review: 'Da 5 Bloods'

When Francis Ford Coppola’s “flawed masterpiece” Apocalypse Now was released in 1979, many people felt that it came too soon in the wake of the Vietnam War.

The sentiment was that we needed a little distance in order to find truth and objectivity.

Forty years have now passed and Spike Lee is back with a vengeance with his take on that chapter of American History.

His latest feature is Da 5 Bloods, about four African-American vets returning to Vietnam to find the body of a valiant comrade and also retrieve a fortune in gold that they discovered and buried during the war.

The movie wastes no time offering up a quick history lesson that establishes the backdrop of the story.

Quick flashes of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, LBJ, Nixon, Kent State, Apollo 11. And the Vietnam War, that was fought by a disproportionate number of African-American soldiers.

Spike Lee wants to set the record straight.

Yes, this is a fictional story about the war, but affords a perspective that has long been overlooked.

In light of the current events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the massive protests that followed, Da 5 Bloods couldn’t be more relevant and pertinent.

I said the same thing about BlacKkKlansMan two years ago, in the wake of the Heather Heyer incident in Charlottesville, Va. in August of 2017 .

The film even included news footage of that event in the final reel.

At one point, it seemed purely remarkable that Spike Lee could release movies that were so in sync with current events.

But then it occurred to me that the issues underlying both movies, and many of his other films were sadly unresolved and endlessly ongoing.

It doesn’t take away from the power of Spike Lee’s message in those movies or the timing of their releases.

It just underscores the enormity of the polarizing, destructive racial divide that has existed for hundreds of years.

I’m a Spike Lee fan, and have been for a long time.

I admire his talent and tenacity, forging a career out of sheer will power and determination and abundant talent as a filmmaker.

He stands among the greatest directors of our generation.

His body of work is substantive and is sure to stand the test of time.

He’s a great student of film and it’s not uncommon for him to pay homage to other filmmakers and movies.

In Da 5 Bloods, he references John Huston’s classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) about another band of men in pursuit of a fortune in gold, and the evil that can come of greed.

No spoilers, but there is a line uttered in dramatic scene that will make you momentarily smile with recognition. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

There are references to Apocalypse Now, including a giant poster in a night club, the use of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (from Coppola’s epic helicopter attack sequence) and an ancient jungle temple similar to the one used by Colonel Kurtz.

I’ve recently taken a few movies to task for relying too much on borrowed material and recycled scenes.

In most cases, you sense the producers are lacking creativity and seeing what they can get away with.

Here, it’s clearly a case of admiration and respect.

Spike knows his movies. And he has learned from the best and he pays them their due.

Da 5 Bloods is unmistakably a Spike Lee production.

And while it may not turn out to be one of his top films when his long, successful career finally winds down, it is a very significant film and one very much worth seeing.

Spike Lee is still on his game.

For me, BlacKkKlansman was one of the best, if not the best movies he ever made. Masterfully done.

The consistency of his body of work is impressive.

What Da 5 Bloods has going for it is that it’s a glaring untold story that needed to be told.

It’s about more than the Vietnam War and the lasting effects on those who were called into duty to fight it.

It’s also about African-American culture and history. It’s about suffering and surviving.

It’s about the baffling complexity of relationships. And it’s also about greed and the observation that greed might be the underlying cause to all the evil that exists in the world.

Da 5 Bloods has a running time of 2 hours, 35 minutes.

It is perhaps a little longer than it needed to be, but this is Spike’s film.

I was surprised to see that Spike chose to use the same actors in the older and younger versions of themselves.

The time jump is roughly 50 years and I’m not entirely sure that this works, but again, this is Spike’s film.

Speaking of the time-jumping, I applaud the brilliant touch of switching from present to past by rendering present day footage in 16:9 format and then compressing the frame down to 3:4 format for the scenes from the past.

The expansion back and forth is slick and effective-- pure Spike Lee.

Da 5 Bloods is rated R for some graphic violence and gore, both fictional and real.

There are unflinching photos and newsreel clips meant to remind you of the horrors of this war. Consider this a trigger warning for anyone who needs one.

As shocking as some of the staged violence is, it pales by comparison to the brutality of what the war photographers covered.

Spike Lee invites you to see a chapter of history from several other perspectives—that of the African-American soldiers who sacrificed so much, and that of the Vietnamese people who suffered and lost so much in what they call “The American War.”

Watch the powerful trailer for Da 5 Bloods, cut to the music of the Chambers Brothers’ unforgettable Vietnam-era rock song Time Has Come Today (featuring some very prominent and perfect use of cow bell).

You’ll want to see this movie.

And if you’re like me, you might wish that they made some cool-looking, Eisenhower-era-style buttons that said “I Like Spike.”


Da 5 Bloods is streaming on Netflix.

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