My third favorite film from 2018 was Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, just falling behind Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and A Quiet Place. Between the acting, directing, writing, timeliness, and every other aspect the film delivered on, it is safe to say that BlacKkKlansman was a masterpiece of film making. Over his long career, Spike Lee has developed his very unique and recognizable style and branding on his films and they always seem to far exceed expectations. Ever since his newest “joint”, Da 5 Bloods, was announced, I had been anxiously awaiting his newest entry. Unfortunately, as what happens to so many way too often, I set my expectations way too high for this Netflix original that, while attempting to be profound, decided to sacrifice the integrity and believably of its plot development.
Da 5 Bloods follows four African American vets from the Vietnam War returning to Vietnam after many years in order to find a stash of gold and the remains of their fallen leader that helped them hide it. On their journey through the jungles of Vietnam, the company must overcome their fight with the wild, their PTSD, other people in search of the gold, and their own turmoil between them.
While I am disappointed in the film, it can not stated enough how brilliant all of the performances in this film were. The Bloods consisted of Paul played by Delroy Lindo, Otis played by Clarke Peters, Eddie plaed by Norm Lewis, Melvin played by Isiah Whitlock Jr., and in the flashback sequences, Stormin’ Norman played by Chadwick Boseman. Performances by all of these actors were absolutely fantastic. Other standout performances in the film Jonathan Majors (who plays Paul’s son David) and Melanie Thierry (who plays French activist Hedy). All of the actors and actresses in the film brought very raw performances and all sold all of their lines beautifully.
Other highlights for the film include the beautiful set designs, practical effects work and Spike Lee’s signature directing style. The cinematography is fantastic and the stylized flashbacks all really propel the film. There are many shots where you just can’t help but comment on how beautiful they were. Many of the flashbacks are also very well done and are used in very effective ways in order to set up conflict, camaraderie, and many of the underlying social issues and themes that Lee is trying to address.
All of this said, there are two main Achilles’ heels in this film. The less apparent and less offensive is the length. Simply put, this film is too long. The first half of the film does a great job of building characters and setting up conflict and plot, but it drags on for way too long. There was a moment while watching where I paused to make some tea to keep me awake and it showed that I wasn’t even an hour in yet. That said, if you can manage to get through the first half of the film, it really does pick up the pace and gets you invested.
The main issue with this film is the amount of conveniences scattered throughout the film. When analyzing plots and character conflicts, it is okay to have a super convenient plot devices to get the plot moving (think the rat from Avengers: Endgame) because without those out-of-nowhere, unrealistic scenarios most characters wouldn’t be spring-boarded into an adventure. What I find to never be okay, is using those overly convenient situations to solve conflict or plot points. Not including the final act of the movie (the last act is very well done), the way so many plot points in this film get resolved is absolutely ridiculous and unrewarding. There are two specific parts of the film that felt so “Disney protagonist lucky” that I audibly groaned because of how cheap it felt.
Is Da 5 Bloods a good film, yes. Is it one of Netflix’s best originals, sure. Is it the quality you would expect from a Spike Lee film, in many ways yes, and in crucial ways no. I would definitely recommend this film to anybody as there is so much in this film that is done beautifully well and it is a bold new take on the war movie genre. However, I do not see myself sitting down to rewatch it like I have with most other Spike Lee films. I felt that the social issues that Lee wanted to present were done effectively but at the cost of having enough screen time to write and execute meaningful conclusions of several of the plot lines that he set up.
Da 5 Bloods is Rated R for strong violence, grisly images and pervasive language.