Spike Lee ‘DA 5 BLOODS’ Review: Vietnam Epic Finds Apocalypse Then and Now

Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” his first feature since the Oscar-winning “BlacKkKlansman,” is an angry, incendiary and extraordinarily timely film that surveys decades of racism in the United States with a sharp, unflinching eye.

And “Da 5 Bloods” is also an adventure story about a quartet of Vietnam vets who return to the country where they once fought to find the remains of their squad leader, and also dig up some buried treasure that they left behind in 1968.

One of those things is significantly more involving than the other, and you probably don’t need much help figuring out which one it is. The in-country trek at the heart of the film is pretty routine by Lee’s standards; it’s the way he tells that story, the asides and the history lessons and the cutaways and the tricks that have become the director’s singular cinematic vocabulary, that make it a must-see in these stormy times.

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Sprawling and expansive at more than two-and-a-half hours, “Da 5 Bloods” is Lee’s Vietnam epic, a journey up the river with more than a few nods to “Apocalypse Now.” (Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” even shows up at one point.) The more it has on its mind, the better it is, because the vitality of Lee’s filmmaking lies not in the way he shows these guys hiking through the jungle but in all the other stuff he throws at us along the trail.

It doesn’t have the focus or the concentrated punch of “BlacKkKlansman” – but at a time of Black Lives Matter protests around the country, it feels urgent and even necessary, even in the nontheatrical Netflix release necessitated by coronavirus theater closings.

The film starts with Muhammad Ali in 1967 talking about why he refused to fight in Vietnam: “No Vietcong ever called me n—–.” That’s followed by a barrage of clips from the time – Malcolm X speaking, Tommie Smith and John Carlos protesting at the 1968 Olympics, the killings at Kent State – set to the strains of Marvin Gaye, whose sweet but outraged album “What’s Going On” is heard again and again throughout “Da 5 Bloods.”

When we arrive at the present day, it’s in the lobby of a swanky Saigon hotel, where four Vietnam vets are meeting for what seems to be the first time in years. Paul, Eddie, Otis and Melvin (played by Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) served together in the late ’60s, and left unfinished business behind in the remote Vietnamese countryside: the body of their commander, Norman, played in flashbacks by Chadwick Boseman, and a buried crate full of $17 million in gold bars that were to have been given by the U.S. government to the South Vietnamese for helping them fight the Vietcong.

Source: The Wrap