In the last few years, Netflix has attracted several talented filmmakers to come and make films for their streaming service. Talents such as Fincher, Scorsese and Cauron has come on board and now Spike Lee has joined the crowd. The last film I saw from Lee was the much-hated remake of OLDBOY, even though I’m a big fan of the Korean original version, I didn’t hate Lee’s remake, I actually enjoyed it. To be fair, Lee disowned that film because the studio butchered his original cut to make it shorter. Now Lee’s tackle a Vietnam war theme film that sits on my top best films list so far this year.
During the Vietnam war in the late 1960s, buddies Paul (Dilroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitelock) and Stormin’ Norman (the late Chadwick Boseman) formed a tight bond fighting in a war for country that rejects their presence because the color of their skin. Seeing the lives of their fellow soldiers being lost in a war they don’t believe in, Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin looked up to Norman for leadership. Norman educates the men about the value of their lives and black history. During botched a mission in the jungle of Vietnam, the group found a chest of American gold meant to be a protection payment. They decided to bury the gold and come back to collect it once the war is over. 50 years later, four of the men Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin decided to go back to Vietnam to find the gold and also their leader Norman.
The plot of Da 5 Bloods broke into two parts, the first is about the men coming back to a country that’s now modern and full of tourists. It’s not the same place they remembered, Paul is having a hard time accepting the fact that the Vietnamese are no longer the enemy, while the other men are enjoying their time in a country that don’t really judge them based solely on the color of their skin. Otis who’s now the leader of the group, met up with an old flame Tien (Le Y Lan) who can connect the men with a Frenchman named Desroche (Jean Reno) that can help them move the gold out of the country. The men also have local guide named Vinh Tran (Johnny Nguyen) who helps them navigate through the city and into the jungle. The second part became more of an action/adventure as the men look for their buried gold and battle with the local henchmen that’s been following them.
With a runtime of 155 minutes, the script is credited to 4 writers including Lee. It’s a meaty script that could’ve derailed the story but Lee’s on top of his game and really took his time to tell the tale. Just like his other films, the film is full of political and racial subject matters that’s as relevant in today’s politics as it was back during the Vietnam war. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel is quite spectacular, this is probably the most “cinematic” looking film that Netflix has ever produced. I thought other films that they’ve made still has that made for TV look to them. Sigel and Lee really shot this film meant for the big screen. The only thing I didn’t really like was Lee’s decision to switch aspect ratios. The flashback scenes during the war were shown in boxy 1.33:1, the present-day scenes in the city were shown in cinemascope 2.39:1 and the second half jungle scenes were in flat 1.85:1 aspect ratio. I’m sure Lee has his reasons for that decision, but I don’t understand why he’d done that. I would’ve been fine with the film being shown in constant wider aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
Performances were great all around. With Paul being the lead in the film, Delroy Lindo shined as a trouble character who has to come face to face with a guilt that he can’t accept since the war. This guilt has been haunting throughout his life since the war ended. Another great performance belongs Clarke Peters, he’s the more level headed man of the group and tried to keep the group together when they face troubles in the jungle. Even though he’s featured prominently during the promotion of the film (given this is his last film released before he died), Boseman only appeared in flashback scenes and has about 10 minutes of screen time. But he’s great as the leader of men who needs someone to guide them during war time.
I thought this is one of Lee’s best films and I think it could be in the Oscar race comes awards season. Assuming there will be any awards this year. If you’re a Netflix subscriber then this film is a no brainer, it comes highly recommended.
At the end of Da 5 Bloods, Lee showed with a quote from a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. that made the year before he died, in which King quotes literary icon Langston Hughes:
“O, yes/ I say it plain/ America never was America to me/ And yet I swear this oath—America will be!”
So have you seen DA 5 BLOODS? Well, what did you think?