Da 5 Bloods

 

            In this strange, surreal COVID-19 era we're all slogging through blindfolded, the movie situation has been highly unusual, as well.  Most theaters aren't open.  The ones that have re-opened their doors fail to experience even limited capacity.  Hollywood has pulled back most of the major releases, hoping for a more propitious time for box office success.  And so what's become available online is a sudden, unexpected opportunity for the small, independent films, which are usually more offbeat, less dramatic in scope, and presided over by the not-quites and wanna-bes, some of whom just might make a name for themselves.  Just don't expect a lot of gravitas.

            Enter Spike Lee's new film, “Da 5 Bloods.”  It's Spike Lee, so you know there's plenty of gravitas, and maybe, occasionally, self-righteous overload.  One way or another, it's going to be about the black experience in America----if not an outright history lesson, then at least the evident context.

            5 black men serve in Vietnam together, in the worst part of the war, the jungle fighting.  The squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman) is the one who holds them together.  He's ferocious in a firefight, and he takes care of his men.  He's a leader whom they all respect.  He calls them all “The Bloods,” and keeps emphasizing their bonds of brotherhood.  And then, as quickly as a spent bullet, he's gone.  KIA.  And the rest return, carrying on as best they can, with varying manifestations of PTSD.

            Fast-forward to the present.  The four remaining guys stage a reunion.  When they first meet, there's a lot of back-slapping and whoops and big smiles.  But quickly it turns more serious.  They want to go back to Nam together not just to retrieve the remains of their fallen buddy, Norman.  They also want to see if they can find the hidden gold.  Yep, from that mission where they found the crashed CIA plane with the bullion.  If they can walk back into the jungle to retrieve the treasure, they'll all be rich.  And, in their estimations, they all deserve it.

            Of course, nothing is simple, or easy.  One of the guys finds his long-lost Saigon sweetheart, and does she have a surprise for him.  Another guy's grown son turns up, worried about him, and winds up going on the expedition with them, but not before connecting with a French group of do-gooders who seek to defuse bombs and mines that still scourge the countryside.

            Spike Lee makes an interesting directorial decision to flashback to the old Vietnam, but utilizing the guys in their present advanced age, except for Norman, of course, who never aged.  Mr. Lee also decides to make his characters more profane and raw-edged than well-mannered and courteous, so expect the vituperative dialogue, and the frequent conversational invectives.

            But there's no denying the emotional impact that the film delivers, even as good intentions fall apart and old alliances disintegrate.  And Vietnam remains the focus of  much that is tragic and dissonant in our cultural memories.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association