Four African-American Vets search for the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and treasure in the new Spike Lee film, Da 5 Bloods, launching on Netflix.
Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) are back in Vietnam. Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), joins them as well. Their main purpose is to find Stormin’ Norman’s (Chadwick Boseman) buried remains so that he can get a proper American burial. The other purpose is to find the gold treasure left behind so many decades earlier. But in returning to Vietnam, they find themselves fighting the war all over again. All four of them have issues that they are dealing with in present day and it shows. Paul and David have their own conflict by way of Paul’s support for Donald Trump.
The Vietnam War led to more psychological trauma than perhaps any war in history. American soldiers were given rifles and sent off to a war with no end plan. Put it this way, there’s a reason why President Johnson opted against running for reelection in 1968 and it mostly lies with the failure of Vietnam. The Quartet, as they are without Norman alive, returned to an America that had no appreciation for them. Moreover, they also had to deal with the systemic racism on top. This is a war that saw Black soldiers account for around 1/3 of the American military in Vietnam.
Starting off together at the Ho Chi Minh City Hotel, they soon set off for their mission. It’s a mission that will lead to flashbacks and more trauma. For these troops, it’s as if the war never ended for them. Look at how they were treated upon coming back to America. One cannot help but think of how much this stung. In the meantime, they have Local Guide Vinh Tran (Johnny Trí Nguyễn) to guide them in their return.
The film opens up with a montage of historical events that set the tone for that era in time. It’s an opening that feels all too relevant at this point in time. After all, the 1968 protests have also repeated themselves since the end of May. When it comes to the film’s ending, we get Dr. Martin Luther King reciting a Langston Hughes poem, Let America Be Great Again. I wouldn’t expect anything different from Spike Lee. This is a filmmaker who knows his history. It just proves to show that we must study our history. We can’t get to where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been–for better or worse.
One of the more intriguing choices is the decision to use the actors during flashbacks to their Vietnam days. No makeup, no de-aging technology. You see them as they are in the present day. It doesn’t mess with the story all too much. However, it can a bit confusing for those wondering why Chadwick Boseman is in some scenes and not others. And yet, you can also tell the difference by how the film is shot. We not only see a change in aspect ratio but the film turns to more of a newsreel footage during the flashbacks. I’ll be looking to see if other filmmakers follow in the future. For now, it’s an interesting choice but it’s one that works in the service of telling the story.
Da 5 Bloods, with a lens by way of the Vietnam War and a Marvin Gaye soundtrack, couldn’t have come at a more timely point in the year.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
SCREENWRITERS: Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
CAST: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Lê Y Lan, Nguyễn Ngọc Lâm, Sandy Hương Phạm, with Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman