His new Vietnam War movie Da 5 Bloods, following
a band of African-American veterans hunting for gold, is no different – opening with a harsh history
lesson. Lee clips together 4:3 TV footage of Muhammad Ali, Dr King, Malcolm X, Angela Davis: all interlaced with the murders and massacres and shootings and suicides captured in the
fraught time of the Vietnam War.
evocative enough to make you weep, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s
murder and the global protests that have grown from it. How many other prominent
filmmakers would dare to open with such piercing pictures? This real footage soon splinters
into fiction as you see a photo of the five eponymous ‘Bloods’, raising
their fists in the jungle. The screen expands to 16:9 and time moves forward to
harrowing footage and photos recur throughout, always reminding you of the important
reality inside this genre fantasy. Da 5 Bloods exists in a revisionist, treasure-hunting
Western – like a diverse Treasure of the Sierra Madre – yet it’s populated with PTSD, war stories and black history. The Bloods
return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their fallen friend Stormin’ Norman
(played in 4:3 flashbacks by Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman), and to
steal a crate of CIA gold they secretly buried at the time. But should they use
the gold for themselves or others?
Photo: David Lee/Netflix
(Clarke Peters) organises the eventual conversion of the gold into cash, helped by an old
Y Lan) and a white-suited Frenchman (Jean Reno). Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr) has a family back home and is good with
metal detectors. Eddie (Norm Lewis) owns a car dealership, and wants to donate
his share to Black Lives Matter.
But the most vivid and interesting of the
group is also the most contentious: Paul (Delroy Lindo), the wall-hungry, right-wing Trump supporter, who proudly wears an MAGA cap. He’s exceedingly loud in
most scenes, like nobody’s heard him until now.
sprinkles the film with so many different flavours of character, too many to examine
here. It’s a sweeping ensemble, endlessly watchable, but sometimes they fill
the plot to bursting point: confusing certain returning character details. But
this encourages further viewings to follow the threads and trace where
The union of the five Bloods is a delight: from dancing to Marvin
Gaye in a disco to furiously arguing at gunpoint. They don’t see eye to eye on
everything, but the immortal memory of Stormin’ Norman unites them. As the
Bloods delve deeper into the jungle, the ecstasy of gold and memories of war simmer
inside them – leading to a furious and delirious final act.
flashbacks fire rapidly with bullet-ridden action, with Newton Thomas
Sigel’s visuals charging with the soldiers on the ground as Norman leads his troop
into battle. Norman’s legacy also continues through his intelligence, teaching his
men – and, consequently, the audience – about black history and America's 'anti-commie Kool-Aid'. As Otis recounts, ‘he
was our Malcolm and our Martin’.
can see Lee having fun paying homage to his favourite movies, like playing Wagner along a Vietnamese river (a booming reference to Apocalypse
Now), while digging angrily at America’s atrocities and injustices. He educates
and entertains simultaneously, a hard juggling act to facilitate: imbalanced at
its worst, explosive at its best. Regardless, he ensures you remember the
sacrifices African-Americans have made for their country. And make still.
Da 5 Bloods is available on Netflix from Friday 12 June
|What||Da 5 Bloods, Netflix review|
12 Jun 20 – 12 Jun 21, ON NETFLIX
|Website||Click here for more information|