Masterful Netflix movie is a gut-punch

 

The war never ended.

The tanks stopped rolling, treaties were signed and surviving soldiers went home - but the war continued. The conflict, the trauma and the memories of injustice live on.

Spike Lee's powerful new film, Da 5 Bloods, streaming now on Netflix, may centre on Vietnam War veterans returning to the former battlefield, but there is more than one war being waged.

Da 5 Bloods is a punch in the guts, a visceral, confronting and often uncomfortable experience.

It's a complex movie that strips you bare emotionally with its acute perspective on the lasting effects of past wrongs. The past is the present and if there's no reckoning, it's also the future.

Set in the present day, four black Vietnam War veterans - Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) - land in Ho Chi Minh City, decades after the group was last in the country as soldiers for the American army.

 

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors make up the ensemble cast of Da 5 Bloods. Picture: David Lee/Netflix via AP
Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors make up the ensemble cast of Da 5 Bloods. Picture: David Lee/Netflix via AP

 

Officially, the four have returned to recover the remains of their fallen compatriot, Stormin' Norman (Chadwick Boseman), but they have an ulterior motive too, to find the trove of gold bars they buried with his body.

Through flashbacks, which Lee frames in a 3:4 aspect ratio, it's revealed the gold was captured by the then-five soldiers as part of a mission.

The bars were intended as payment from the US to the South Vietnamese forces but Norman convinces his friends their community is owed payment for centuries of crimes again their people - from slavery to fighting in a war halfway across the world while the country they volunteered for is killing their brothers at home.

Norman sees it as reparation.

 

Chadwick Boseman appears in flashback scenes as Stormin’ Norman
Chadwick Boseman appears in flashback scenes as Stormin’ Norman

 

Da 5 Bloods was filmed last year but the three-minute package of historical footage that opens the movie effectively mirrors the battle for equality that still rages on today.

Lee makes the direct link between the charged era of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War then to how little progress has been made in the 21st century. There is an urgency that propels this movie.

Da 5 Bloods is a masterfully made film, seamlessly shifting in tone from the easy hangout vibe of the early scenes in which the characters drink at a bar named Apocalypse Now with a Budweiser sign, to the feverish intensity of its thrilling and violent final act in the dense, green jungle.

 

The early scenes of Da 5 Bloods feature the former soldiers chilling out
The early scenes of Da 5 Bloods feature the former soldiers chilling out

 

It's an expertly crafted movie whether it's the pulsating pacing, the evocative score by frequent Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard or the performances, particularly the Oscar-worthy turn from Lindo.

With the Academy's tweaked rules regarding theatrical release because of the coronavirus pandemic, fortunately Da 5 Bloods and Lindo will be eligible for Oscar nominations and the nods (and wins) would be well deserved.

Lindo's performance of Trump-supporter Paul, a man defeated by life's many punishments and looking for a saviour, even a false one, is mesmerising and despairing, an empathetic portrait of a man discarded by society who can't confront or interrogate all that haunts him.

The character is a surrogate for humanity's destructive impulses and the damage done in the name of denial.

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Delroy Lindo deserves to win an Oscar for his performance
Delroy Lindo deserves to win an Oscar for his performance

 

Da 5 Bloods has many ideas and layers of commentary on cultural and physical colonialism (the inclusion of French characters is telling), historical redress and the pain we inflict on each other, fighting for crumbs scattered by the powerful - but it's also a hopeful story, proposing a way forward that doesn't ignore the past.

It's a movie that would benefit from repeat viewings.

Lee gives his audience not just solid entertainment, but also much to think about, if they're willing to engage.

Rating: 4.5/5

Da 5 Bloods is streaming now on Netflix

Share your movies and TV obsessions | @wenleima

Originally published as Masterful Netflix movie is a gut-punch


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