When I first heard about George Floyd, my immediate thoughts were about Spike Lee’s masterpiece Do The Right Thing (1989). I won’t spoil much for those who haven’t watched it, other than to say there’s a scene that unfortunately immediately highlights its relevance again. Why bringing this up while reviewing his latest, Da 5 Bloods as released on Netflix, though?
It’s because we have to look back and ask the right questions, if we are to move forward, and both films have this ultimate goal in mind. Set in the present, Bloods follows four African-American Vietnam veterans where upon discovering gold they and their deceased group leader (Norman, played honourably by Chadwick Boseman) is actually locatable, they decide to head back.
In terms of tone throughout, it’s not just an Apocalypse Now (1979)-esque darkness descent, it does more. I absolutely appreciate films like that and The Deer Hunter (1978), but the only comparison Lee takes away is how the former and Bloods recognise Vietnam as a media-saturated war as much as being reality (we even covered this at college). This is cleverly shown through showing flashbacks in a 16mm-style format, and perhaps also by not de-aging or recasting the present-day cast for those bits. Instead, we feel them as they do about those points in time, with clear PTSD repercussions.
Where it mainly differentiates itself from movies including the aforementioned is while those two did work, especially in The Deer Hunter the Vietnamese soldiers appear borderline animalistic. So there’s never a feeling here that America were the clear good guys and winners (indeed, they lost). Each ethnicity’s even given its own cross-examination, helping at least most of the ensemble to stand out (that also goes for the African-American vets, where tellingly, Delroy Lindo as the de facto leader and most obviously troubled of the lot outspokenly supports Trump. He even wears a MAGA cap, and I should emphasise I’m saying none of this to try and simplify the character, it’s just to partly express how conflicted everyone is, how contradictory. Props to Lee for probing this far).
Sadly, this isn’t a perfect film altogether. At 2 1/2 hours, Da 5 Bloods can’t help but feel unwieldy at points, as if the ambition concerning how it tries enquiring about racial and broadly speaking societal, tensions undoes itself. Still, this is a Spike Lee Joint through and through, and you have to at least give the movie a try with the renewed BLM relevance in mind. Go on, do the right thing!