Review: Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Director/Screenwriter: Spike Lee
Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman
Genres: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: Rated R for grisly images, strong violence, and pervasive language
Release Date: 6/13/20 (Streaming)
Where to Watch: Netflix
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes

Da 5 Bloods was a surprise [to me] Spike Lee release. In fact, I hadn’t heard anything about it until it was released on Netflix over the summer, and knew very little until Chadwick Boseman passed away and everyone was talking about his role in the film. Unfortunately, Lee’s latest — released solely on the streaming service and now featuring Boseman’s image on the poster — is mainly a disappointment. After the success of his last film, BlacKkKlansman, one would expect his follow-up to be just as good. But, alas, that is far from the case. 

Lee is typically an innovative filmmaker who aims to get across complex, relevant themes and topics in a way that only he can. (Side note: He won his first and only Oscar thus far for adapting the screenplay for BlacKkKlansman). Da 5 Bloods is basically a mess, as it attempts to combine several different narratives and genres to varying degrees of success (more on the lower end). Lee aims to examine the affects of the Vietnam War on its soldiers (in particular, the African-American ones, whose stories are largely kept out of the limelight) and compare that deadly war to what is currently going on in this country with racism and the terrible racist/idiot-in-chief. He also tries to add some father/son dynamics, as well as struggles with mental health, finding treasure, and more. That’s way too much for even a miniseries, let along a 2.5 hours movie. I would have much rather watched a 90- or 120-minute film that focuses on any of those things. 

Lee could have easily shaved off 45+ minutes, as this is one of those super-long films those runtime isn’t merited. (Good examples: The Irishman, Avengers: Endgame). When it’s finally over, you are exhausted — and not in a good way, a la Uncut Gems.  And, yet despite everything that is packed into the film, I still didn’t feel like I knew the main characters all that well — played by Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, Jonathan Majors, and Boseman. However, Lindo’s character — a mentally unstable [what else?] T*ump supporter — is the only one whose character arc made the most sense, and I could really get behind. Despite the film’s failure to be as successful as Lee intended, Lindo is fantastic and currently a front-runner for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars (assuming they are still happening). You may not entirely empathize with the character, but Lindo’s commitment to the role is commendable. 

Other standouts include Majors as Lindo’s estranged son, who manages to make a fairly stereotypical role believable. Then, of course, there’s the late Boseman, who makes the most of his relatively limited screen time — he shows up in what appear to be flashbacks, but are really more like reenactments. This really confused me: seeing the much older actors playing their younger selves in scenes with Boseman. It was very off-putting and unnecessary, in my opinion. 

Da 5 Bloods has a few typically genius Spike Lee moments, though there aren’t enough to make me want to watch this again, or to even recommend it to other people. Truly, its high Rotten Tomatoes score astounds me.

Grade: C+