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Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” Is Angry, Entertaining, And Absolutely Essential

After the Oscar-winning success of BlacKkKlansman, what filmmaker Spike Lee opted to follow it up with always always going to be inherently fascinating. After all, that movie had won Lee his first Academy Award. Would that move him in a more mainstream direction? If so, would any of his creative forces be blunted? Well, if any of that worried you, fear not. Da 5 Bloods, hitting Netflix on Friday, is certainly poised to be one of his most widely seen efforts, but it retains everything that makes him such a special and unique storyteller. Crafting an essential bit of cinema for our times, this is something that absolutely needs to be seen.

The film is a drama, mixing in war elements. A quartet of African American Army veterans in Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) have returned to Vietnamese soil, decades after the war. During the Vietnam War, they lost their Squad Leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman), during a bloody battle. Back in country, they plan to search for his remains and bring him home for a proper burial. However, the four also have another plan, which is to recover literal buried treasure. You see, where the body was left, so too was a ton of gold. Knowing the plan, the group is also joined by Paul’s son Davis (Jonathan Majors), who worries that his father’s PTSD is getting out of control. In the jungle, the group may find what their looking for, but various dangers await them, as well as a renewed reckoning with the passives immoralities that surrounded the Vietnam War, and in particular those of the African America experience. Lee directs here, in addition to penning the screenplay with Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott. Supporting players include Paul Walter Hauser, Van Veronica Ngo, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Mélanie Thierry, and more. Terence Blanchard again serves as Lee’s composer, while the cinematography is by Newton Thomas Sigel.

Spike Lee is again at the height of his powers here, once again expertly mixing anger and entertainment. His trademark righteous indignation is fully on display, again buoyed by unfortunate real life events. Much like in BlacKkKlansman, recent historical events are shown for context, which is incredibly effective. Undeniably a Lee picture, this is also, as he said last year, his “David Lean epic,” which is true, in terms of length and scope. At over two and a half hours, it’s one of his longer flicks, starting out as almost a buddy comedy before adding in some war flashbacks and some action, and eventually hammering home its anger at how these men were treated by their country.

Da 5 Bloods is as timely as movies get. Watching it, you can’t help but get the sense that Lee was shooting up until literally today. Some of that is just cinematic kismet, though as awful as real life events are, having Lee as the filmmaker to comment on it is rather apt. Now, that doesn’t completely cover up the film’s small flaws, but it’s an important asterisk. To be sure, things run at least ten or fifteen minutes too long, certain parts of the plot are given less weight than you’d hope for, and there’s a definite second act hump to get over. Make no mistake though, this is still high quality cinema. Delroy Lindo and Clarke Peters stand out here as the closest thing this ensemble has to leads, while Isiah Whitlock, Jr. lends some needed levity at times. If there’s a slight disappointment in the cast, it’s that Chadwick Boseman isn’t given a ton to do. He’s more of a symbol than a character, at his core.

Oscar attention remains to be seen, but Netflix should certainly consider this one a player. Da 5 Bloods is among Lee’s most awards-friendly material to date, so a full-throated campaign seems to be in order. Above the line, Best Picture, Best Director (for Lee), and Best Original Screenplay (for Bilson, De Meo, Lee, and Willmott) should at least be in the conversation. Best Supporting Actor may be a tougher sell, as Boseman is perhaps a big scene shy of contending, while Lindo is great but such a controversial character, some might go for it. Below the line, Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing will at least be on the table.

On Friday, a new Spike Lee joint hits the streaming world when Netflix unveils Da 5 Bloods to the world. While slightly messier than his last effort in BlacKkKlansman, this is still top tier Lee. Not only is this going to majorly appeal to Lee’s fans, even viewers who don’t tend to enjoy his work will have a legit chance at loving this. The streaming giant is about to have a major event film on their hands. The movie was always going to capture attention, but real life events have made this absolutely essential viewing. Once again, Lee is urging us to look to the past, in order to hopefully not make the same mistakes in the future…

Be sure to check out Da 5 Bloods, available this weekend on Netflix!

(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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