DA 5 BLOODS: Ambitious but ultimately underwhelming.

June has been a big month for home streaming. We’ve seen a lot of indie gems come through that may have otherwise been granted a cinematic release but due to “the current situation” have come straight to the couch for our viewing comfort. Kernel Ehab jumped at the chance to review DA 5 BLOODS for us – but from the sounds of his review, he’s questioning his decision!

DA 5 BLOODS is available now for home streaming on Netflix. It runs for 154mins and is rated MA15+. Enjoy Kernel Ehab’s review.
Kernel Claire

Da 5 Bloods – ropable!

BY EHAB RASHED

SYNOPSIS:

Spike Lee follows up his Oscar winning film BLACKKKLANSMAN with DA 5 BLOODS. It’s the story of four Vietnam Vets returning to Vietnam. Paul (Delroy Lindo: GET SHORTY, MALCOLM X), Otis (Clarke Peters: JOHN WICK, THE WIRE), Eddie (Norm Lewis: SEX AND THE CITY 2, WINTER’S TALE), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.: CEDAR RAPIDS, BLACKKKLANSMAN). They search for the remains of their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman: BLACK PANTHER, 42) and the promise of buried treasure. Our heroes, joined by Paul’s concerned son (Jonathan Majors: LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, WHITE BOY RICK), battle forces of man and nature. All the while confronted by the lasting ravages of the immorality of the Vietnam War. A lacklustre and erratically paced misstep that hopes for so much but executes it lazily. It’s a shame because I along with millions know that Spike Lee can do better. 

Da 5 Bloods- Returning to Vietnam

COME ON SPIKE, YOU CAN DO BETTER!

There aren’t a lot of directors out there that are tent-pole names. When you reach a certain stature your movies become “events” and the public starts to salivate with anticipation. Nolan, Tarantino, Scorsese, need only put their names on a movie project for the public to start getting excited. Spike Lee also rolls like this.
A “Spike Lee Joint” has hit our screens consistently for over 30 years with Spike bursting onto the scene with his poignant and STILL amazingly relevant “DO THE RIGHT THING” earning him an Oscar nomination for best screenplay and the Late Danny Aiellos’s (MOONSTRUCK, HUDSON HAWK) first and only nomination for best supporting actor. Since then, he’s delivered classics like THE 25TH HOUR with Edward Norton and MALCOLM X with Denzel Washington. (Still his best movie in my opinion)

DA 5 BLOODS starts off great – with Spike Lee giving the audience a history lesson about African American / Black soldiers and their role in the Vietnam War. Lee is not timid, he has no problem putting polarising and confronting imagery in his movies. “Spikeisms” as they have come to be known, are rife throughout BLOODS, juxtaposing modern day footage and imagery throughout the movie and a lot of other tropes he’s become known for.

DO ONE THING AT A TIME:

It’s hard to believe that a movie with a runtime over two hours fails to convey story and plot with any type of substance. That’s because Lee is trying to hit way too many points simultaneously. Race, politics, fatherhood, war, class, the opioid epidemic, violence, greed, mental health, alcoholism etc. I could go on. DA 5 BLOODS should have been a Netflix miniseries where they could explore all the themes, but instead it’s a woefully paced slog that only seldom hits its stride. Lee would have been much better served if he had made a straight-up documentary about African American / Black people’s experiences in the Vietnam War. As the first 5 minutes of his film show us, Lee is a brilliant documentarian. (Editor’s note – someone please make this happen!)

Da 5 Bloods – Travis Levius

YOU SHOULD HAVE HELD OUT, SPIKE!

Spike Lee’s desired cast for BLOODS was to include, Samuel L Jackson (PULP FICTION, MARVEL’S NICK FURY), Giancarlo Esposito (BREAKING BAD, DO THE RIGHT THING) and father and son teaming up for the first time with Denzel Washington (TRAINING DAY, GLORY, PHILADELPHIA) and John David Washington (BALLERS, BLACKKKLANSMAN, TENET). I knew this going in and unfortunately it made me wish I saw that version because with all due respect to the cast, they do not have the acting gravitas of the men mentioned above. 

DA CAST:

I do have to show love for my dude Delroy Lindo though. Guy has not aged a day since the 90’s and he is the one saving grace of this film. Already touted for an Oscar nom for his BLOODS performance, Lindo is doing incredible and raw things in a script with no punch. His character is the “Trump” proxy in this film and like I said before, Lee is not shy. He doesn’t dissect with a scalpel, he pummels with a sledge hammer and Lindo is giving it his EVERYTHING and it shows.

It’s to the film’s detriment that no one else even comes close to reaching the heights of Lindo. Sure there are a few moments here and there. But it’s like watching Rookies playing against a veteran and it brings down the already weak production. Don’t know what happened, but looks like Lee just got lazy on this one. He tries to be edgy and different by changing aspect ratios for flashbacks. The actors aren’t played by younger men in and they aren’t digitally de-aged. (Netflix wasn’t backing up that $200 Mill they gave to Scorsese for THE IRISHMAN). The movie is also inundated with numerous references to APOCALYPSE NOW for the avid fan and a multitude of “Easter Eggs” throughout. For example, the main characters are named after members of musical group The Temptations.

Da 5 Bloods – Returning to Vietnam

NOT ENOUGH WAR!

I will admit the flashbacks with Boseman make me wish the whole film was put together in that style. High octane action is enjoyable and proves that Lee does have the range to film war action. In comparison the present day aspects of the movie seldom rise past the heights of an ambitious student film. (Editor’s note – OUCH! Shot’s Fired!)

The worst thing I could have done to shape my opinion of this movie was to re-watch BLACKKKLANSMAN right after…which I did….and MAN that’s a fantastic flick!! Entertaining, shocking, amazing production value and riveting performances from the whole cast.

It can be argued that BLACKKKLANSMAN was the success that it was because of the input from producer Jordan Peele (GET OUT, US) as well. Peele is an incredible filmmaker in his own right. Lee has been criticised in the past for doing whatever he wants on screen – refusing input from those around him. It’s clear for DA 5 BLOODS that he’s just going for it! He’s throwing as much information at us as he can without truly developing any of the points. A real shame. 

Da 5 Bloods – Brothers In Arms

IN CONCLUSION:

A bitterly disappointing effort that has a clear goal, but not the execution needed for it to be effective. I only hope that down the line Lee revisits this subject with a more documentarian style because he clearly has a passion for it. 

A Spike Lee deep dive into the Vietnam War set against a documentary back drop of the African American / Black experience? Give me THAT all day! 

KERNEL EHAB’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Ehab Rashed is a part time freelancer and full time movie tragic and dog dad. If he’s not making his Netflix account overheat you can find him at the movies, a dog park, contemplating the life meaning in “The Big Lebowski”, photographing landscapes or working Tarantino quotes into everyday conversations. You can find this dog and him bumming around on insta @chubbz4lyf 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.