Spike Lee is no stranger to speaking his mind or tapping into issues of racial tension and inequality. In his fiery Da 5 Bloods, the filmmaker goes out of his way to educate viewers about Black soldiers’ experiences in the Vietnam War, a conflict in which they made up 30% of the troops for a country actively oppressing them back home. Within the fictional film, Lee inserts full-screen photos of real Black American soldiers and civilians — all of them heroes who made their mark on history. Each of these informative moments is a pleasure to experience and further enhances an already great film..
Primarily set in present day, the story follows four Bloods — the name Black soldiers called each other in Vietnam — who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their fallen brother Norman (Chadwick Boseman) for a proper military burial. While they search for his body, they also look for the secret stash of gold they also left behind, a quest that lends an extra layer of tension to the proceedings.
Within the group is the enigmatic Paul (Delroy Lindo), the de facto leader who proudly sports his MAGA hat and is out to personally right all the wrongs that have happened to him since the war. Visibly struggling with PTSD from being back in Vietnam, he’s prone to frequent outbursts. Further complicating Paul’s journey is the revelation that his son David (Jonathan Majors) has followed him and will be joining their jungle trek.
Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) round out the Bloods. Each brings his own baggage to this reunion and works through the lingering mental and emotional effects from the war. Other elements from the past also bubble up, perhaps none more moving than the old friends singing a Marvin Gaye song while hiking through the jungle. Along with a flashback to the Bloods learning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and the subsequent riots back home, these moments provide sobering reminders that the injustices of the ‘60s are still present.
Lindo gives a fantastic performance that really should garner him some awards recognition. As a man grappling with the emotional toll of oppression and the guilt weighing on him from past mistakes, his highs and lows onscreen are mesmerizing to witness, though the entire cast is stellar and brings the story even more weight. Supporting players like Paul Walter Hauser, Mèlanie Thierry, Jasper Pääkkönen, and Jean Reno have some memorable scenes in the last third of the film, elevating this frequently tense and violent stretch.
Less than two years after BlacKkKlansman, the legendary Lee has again crafted one of the year’s best films. It’s more than a heist film and it’s more than a war film — it’s an amalgamation of Lee’s previous work by way of Apocalypse Now. More than anything, it’s an epic journey, one we can all be glad to take.