THE MOVIE GUY — ‘Da 5 Bloods’ is entertaining but unfocused.
Published 12:05 am Friday, June 19, 2020
The new Netflix film, Da 5 Bloods may draw heavily upon Apocalypse Now and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but there’s no denying that the film is a Spike Lee Joint through and through. That’s a blessing and a curse, as the mercurial director once again delivers an entertaining film, but also one that frequently loses its focus.
On the surface, this is the straightforward story of four aging veterans (Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) who return to Vietnam in order to search for a chest of CIA gold they buried back in the middle of the war. They are also hoping to track down the body of their squad leader (Chadwick Boseman) who was killed and buried in country.
That all sounds great, but Spike Lee makes it clear from the very beginning that this will be more than just an old geezer adventure story. He once again intercuts documentary footage into the film, using the words of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. to keep the focus on the experiences of African American soldiers during war. Lest this be too subtle, Lee recreates a Hanoi Hannah radio broadcast and has her pointedly ask why Black GIs should lay down their lives in a foreign country when their own country doesn’t seem to care about them at home.
That’s the somber question behind what is otherwise a thoroughly entertaining adventure. These four old dudes, along with one of their sons (Jonathan Majors) head off into the jungle, reminiscing about the old days and complaining about past injustices. What starts out as an easy comradery sours as family conflict, old wounds and good old gold fever start threatening the Bonhomme outing.
The problem for me is that Lee’s serious and entertaining sides don’t always mesh seamlessly, occasionally derailing the film’s momentum. There are also some major plot developments that are quickly glossed over by means of an unbelievable speech that doesn’t really offer much to say on what’s going on here in the present or the past.
So Da 5 Bloods doesn’t rise to the artistic level of BlacKkKlansman, but it’s still a thoroughly entertaining trip with four seasoned actors. The friendship and shared experiences of these soldiers keep the film going, even as it runs past the two-and-a-half-hour mark.
As was the case with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman last year, carte blanche at Netflix isn’t necessarily a good thing if it means a director won’t have anybody forcing him to focus and streamline his movie.
Da 5 Bloods is streaming on Netflix now.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.