Sun. Sep 20th, 2020

Film Review: ‘Da 5 Bloods’ asks ‘Where are all the movies about Black war heroes?’

Spike Lee’s DA 5 BLOODS weaves three strands into one thread:  There’s the story whites tell Blacks about who they are, the story Blacks tell each other, and, finally, the story history tells.

Bookended by historical footage of civil rights activists from Muhammad Ali to Kwame Ture to Angela Davis to Malcolm X to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., intercut with film of atrocities we’re used to seeing in still photographs, we believe Lee’s taking us into familiar territory.  And just then, he opens the inner narrative on four war veterans revisiting Vietnam in search of their fallen commander, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), and the gold their CIA black op was to deliver as aid to local insurgents.

As they settle in to the local bar for drinks, they’re approached by a young Vietnamese landmine victim asking for change.  Between the boy and two former Viet Cong soldiers who buy drinks for the group, Paul (Delroy Lindo) appears psychologically triggered.  A Trump supporter, his politics and prejudices belie his pain—compounded by the death of his wife while giving birth to their son, David (Jonathan Majors).  Paul and David each suffer from a kind of misplaced, survivor’s guilt—their failure to communicate and commiserate, a direct criticism of toxic masculinity.

“Don’t tell me you voted for President Fake Bone Spurs,” says a fellow veteran.  Paul then launches into a tirade about immigrants, just as Otis’ (Clarke Peters) friend and guide, Vinh (Johnny Nguyen), shows up.  We get the sense that the two have a deep friendship.  Along the way, we discover that the other veterans—Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock, Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis)—have well-adjusted lives and the capacity to make friends and revisit old ones in modern day Vietnam.  While they all feel the weight of their leader’s absence, something more burdens Paul.

The crew takes a chopper into the jungle, looking for Norman’s remains and a downed Douglas C-47 Skytrain—the wreckage amidst which they hope to recover the lost gold.  The men fight their way through thickets of dense vegetation, minefields, and disagreements over what to do with the money once they find it.  Their mythical commander—”He was our Malcolm and our Martin”—wished to redistribute it to the Black community as reparations for being forced to fight for freedoms they weren’t allowed to have.

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Da 5 Bloods is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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