‘After you’ve been in a war, you understand it never really ends…’
This one… is going to be tough. I’m normally not a fan of a film with a political message. Imbue your film with your values as much as you want. Make a point through your storytelling by all means. But as soon as someone is overtly throwing in a political belief, I immediately disconnect. It’s like when you’re watching a puppet show and you can see the strings. Spike Lee is a political filmmaker. That’s his raison d’etre. In much the same way as Ken Loach is (whose work I am also a big fan of).
Lee represents a rare political voice that I can bear to listen to in a movie theatre. When we cut out of the story of four Vietnam veterans returning to south east Asia to recover their friend’s remains to graphic images of dead Vietnamese children, or when we cut away for a detailed explanation of a lesser known figure from black history, or even when one of the characters delivers an anti Trump diatribe straight down the lens… I just can’t get on board with that. While I have no doubt at all that Lee has good intentions, and there isn’t a word of his message that I would disagree with, I just don’t go to the movies for that. I want to be entertained, and sure, I want to be moved too, but by the power of storytelling. Most of all, I go to the cinema to escape from all the shit going on in the real world. There are plenty of great documentaries out there that I would go to if I was looking to educate myself.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s focus on the film itself. We don’t really need anything else in terms of plot. It’s pretty straight forward. Four old friends are on a rescue mission. The power of Da 5 Bloods is in the acting and the direction. The four leads are all absolutely superb with Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Chadwick Boseman leading the charge. Lee is at his most experimental behind the camera, throwing everything he has at the screen in the hopes that something will stick – and most of it does. The flashback scenes are particularly effective and are just one example of how confident Spike Lee is as a filmmaker.
It seems that Da 5 Bloods is destined to be a decisive film. My overall thoughts would be that it had moments of greatness, and with a little more restraint and a shorter running time it could have been up there with Lee’s best ever work. As it is, it must go down as an ambitious but flawed curiosity.
Love it or hate it, Da 5 Bloods is not one that you will forget in a hurry. You suspect that Spike Lee himself would be satisfied with that.