Four African-American vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen Squad Leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide.
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jaspar Paakkonen, Johnny Nguyen
Directors: Spike Lee
Writers: Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott
It’s an eerie feeling to watch Da 5 Bloods while Black Lives Matter protests take up most of the nightly news. I can open my phone on the daily and still expect to see President Trump tweeting out something outrageous and inflammatory to everything towards BLM protests are about achieving. “Agent Orange” wasn’t missing from director Spike Lee’s last film, the Oscar-nominated BlacKKKlansman, but with his latest, Da 5 Bloods, current news couldn’t seem more relevant. It’s a film about Black lives, it’s about the open wounds in America to Black people, but it’s also about the wounds they’ve opened in other countries, in this case Vietnam, and how they were forcibly pushed into fighting a war on the front-lines they didn’t care for, for a country, they were, and still are, fighting to care for them.
Through the first thirty minutes, the film lulls you into a false sense of safety. You could be mistaken for thinking this is going to be a fairy tale setting where four old Vietnam-vets travel back to where they did several tours in the war and make peace with their dark and haunting past. The film starts with smiles, drinks and dances as the old-bloods get back together ready for their adventure. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) are four of the five, and they’re going to attempt to find the body of the fifth, ‘Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) deep in the jungle.
It’s not just a mission to return their lost brother however as deep in the jungle also lost is a box of gold that they found during the war, but never recovered. It’s with this plotline that Lee experiments with a rather done-over story about greed getting the better of man. But the heart of the film remains with the Vietnam war, and although there is some level of homage to the classics – Apocalypse Now makes an early appearance.
When we flashback to our five men in the war, apart from Boseman the others are played by their much older actors. This is no Irishman, although I don’t think this choice was made for lack of money. It helps present how the men see themselves during that time, but also how they viewed Norman, their leader and a man they all dearly miss and still look up to. Most importantly it helps build the relationship between Norman and Paul who is now a devoted Trump supporter and obviously sufferers from bad PTSD, but has never been properly treated, or sought help. Paul is described by one of the other men as having never been the same since Norman’s death. That he followed everything Norman said and trusted him as a leader in and out of the war. When the five of them hear about Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination on the radio, it’s Norman that calms the four other men down. “He was a man of peace” he explains, as the other four wants to seek blood-revenge there and then.