The American War in Vietnam is a conflict that still affects the world to this very day; a “forever war” that has mentally taken a toll on those who experienced it as much or more than it has physically. Da 5 Bloods, another smash hit from director Spike Lee, takes the anguish and hurt of this war and weaves it into a powerful statement on race, politics, and what it means to be an American in the aftermath of atrocity.
In the vein of Kelly’s Heroes, Da 5 Bloods tells the story of The Bloods, a squad of black US Army soldiers deployed on tour in Vietnam from 1967-1971: Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and squad leader “Stormin’” Norman (Chadwick Boseman). The Bloods recover a shipment of gold meant for the Lahu people, in return for their fighting the Viet Cong, and decide to take it for themselves, burying it to reclaim after the war. In the present, The Bloods reunite in Ho Chi Minh City to venture back into the wilderness to find their treasure and retrieve Norman’s body, who was killed shortly after their initial discovery; they are accompanied by Paul’s adult son David (Jonathan Majors) who is worried about his father’s declining mental state. Confronting their demons and coming to terms with Vietnam are only the start of The Bloods’ harrowing final journey through the jungle to find their brother and the closure they all desperately need.
Da 5 Bloods is one of the best Vietnam movies I’ve ever seen, and certainly the best movie I’ve seen this year. Not only does it criticize the soulless, violent, action-oriented Vietnam films that spawned after Apocalypse Now, it satirizes them as well, adopting the very violence and action it speaks out against in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Its powerful portrayal of the black community’s experience in Vietnam, intertwined with the fight against racism back home that continues today, is emotional and hard to watch, but it must be watched. Even the atrocities and anguish experienced by the Vietnamese during and after the war are put on full display, a rarity in this genre, though it sometimes veers into areas of ignorance. Lindo gives an Oscar-winning performance as the Trump-supporting Paul, whose battle with PTSD is soul-crushingly poignant, and the late great Chadwick Boseman’s Norman is nothing less than perfection. The rest of The Bloods and supporting cast each have their own moments of greatness, and the heavy inspiration by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre only further elevates this piece of cinematic excellence.
This movie is not for the faint of heart or those who cannot deal with large amounts of blood or haunting imagery. If this does not apply to you, then I’m begging you to watch Da 5 Bloods as soon as humanly possible. This is a future classic and the new bar for which all Vietnam films which come after should strive to meet.
My Rating: 5/5
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%