Da 5 Bloods is a fantastic feature peppered with hallmarks from its writer and director, Mr Spike Lee. From the Trump critiques to the not-so-subtle placements of his alma mater, Da 5 Bloods is unapologetically Black and American in equal footings.
Four African-American Vietnam war veterans return to Vietnam some decades after the war to find treasure they had buried and locate the remains of their former squad leader ‘Stormin’ Norman’, played by the late great Chadwick Boseman.
I thought it was an interesting directorial choice to not cast younger actors to portray the four veterans in the flashbacks. We see the mature cast fighting alongside Stormin’ Norman, through a GI-Joe-esque filter to denote the transition in time and the theme of the content. Chadwick Boseman plays Norman in combat alongside his aged army comrades, representing just how present Norman’s memory is in the minds of his survived friends. Norman is young forever, frozen in time and immortalised in memory, much like the actor who played him. This only adds to the powerful nature of this film, and as a result many of the scenes with Boseman feel hauntingly genuine, considering the circumstances.
Marvin Gaye’s artistry from ‘Inner City Blues’ to ‘What’s Going On’ iterating throughout the background of the film adds a contextual layer to this fictional but very historically apt piece. Weaving real historical figures and moments into the story really grounded the characters and set the tempo of this feature. Delroy Lindo, who absolutely stole the show, revealed that he read Bloods, an Oral History of the Vietnam War, a verbal account of African-American Vietnam war veterans, to prepare himself and build the complex character of Paul. One of the scenes in this film is completely improvised and you would never know it; which is a testament to the skill of the actors and the fleshed-out nature of these characters.
Da 5 Bloods explores some heavy themes such as PTSD, fatherhood and race. We get an insight into the unique experience and position of Black American GIs who were traumatised by the war and went back home to face further marginalisation for their race. It’s harrowingly depressing.
Lindo’s phenomenal depiction of the ways in which PTSD can manifest itself will earn him award nominations; I am sure of it. Lindo captivatingly peels back the layers to Paul’s character, and it is enchanting to watch him slowly descend into madness, paranoia and delusion. Upon understanding the full extent of Paul’s PTSD, this trip back to Vietnam in hindsight was a TERRIBLE idea for him.
I really liked the commentary on Black liberation and Black capitalism and how the two are at odds with each other. It points to the Black communist movement of the ‘60s, which existed concurrently with the civil rights movement, and ultimately shows the divides that occur once money and greed are factored in.
The character of Paul was that of a Black Trump supporter, and it was interesting to unpack the symbolism of the MAGA hat he donned. When we first see Paul in the cap he wears it backwards, and to an extent the viewers are unsuspecting until one of the others mentions it as a throwaway line. It’s shrugged off and conveyed as harmless in the same way that many Trump supporters are excused and coddled for their views. Wearing it backwards can also be interpreted as a metaphor for the backwards way in which the ‘American dream’ and the American justice system seems to work for Black Americans.
When Paul reaches breaking point and separates from the group, he turns the cap to the front, brandishing the slogan, but it is far from clear to see as the cap at this point is dirty enough to obscure the words. It is stained by blood and dirt and this can represent a variety of things, one being the pain, labour and exploitation used to build America at the hands of Black and brown people. There’s a powerful image towards the end of the film where one of the Bloods (Clarke Peters) lies opposite the French businessman (Jean Reno) who is dressed all in white, and the MAGA hat is placed in the image like a cherry on a sundae. The French businessman represents white imperialism while Peters represents Black America and their positioning in the frame speaks to the chasm between these two groups of people.
Honourable mention goes to Jonathan Majors who plays the mischievously unpredictable David and offers much needed comic relief throughout the film. The character was a contrast to Majors’ portrayal of Atticus in Lovecraft Country and as such demonstrated his technical range and abilities. I also really enjoyed the ode to Isiah Whitmore Jr’s character on The Wire by writing in his iconic catchphrase, “sheeeiiitttt”. Another enjoyable Easter egg in this film was the ongoing reference to Motown group The Temptations through the names of the main characters, Paul, Melvin, Otis, Eddie and David.
My only gripe with this film is the lack of character development for one of the 5 Bloods, even though I understand why this direction was taken for the purpose of the plot.
Watch Da 5 Bloods on Netflix