With the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world for most of 2020, it feels like there hasn’t been a big movie release since American theaters closed in March. Sure, there was Trolls World Tour but that always felt like a distraction for tired parents. This Friday Netflix released the first movie that feels like it fits that bill: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Da 5 Bloods can only be described as an enjoyable mess. Its message is completely of the moment even if thematically and plot-wise it’s not. Its homages (and there are many) are lazy but in terms of craftsmanship this may be Spike Lee’s best yet. It’s also hard not to leave this movie without thinking about Delroy Lindo’s commanding performance.
Da 5 Bloods follows four black servicemen from the Vietnam War (Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Norm Lewis) as they return to Vietnam in the present day in order to find the fallen soldier (Chadwick Boseman) and treasure chest of gold that they left behind. In a reoccurring theme of recent Spike Lee movies he begins by showcasing real life events involving racial tensions and trying to connect them to the plot of the movie. In this movie, this attempt feels a little half-baked considering the meat of the movie is a Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Apocalypse Now mashup, but the images that Lee is able to portray are quite visceral.
The movie is at its best when it’s just trying to be a buddy adventure movie. The chemistry between the four friends and the many people that end up joining them along the way is quite noticeable. A fun dance scene at the beginning of the movie comes off just as well as the inevitable frayed tensions that emerge between the characters as they get closer to the treasure so it’s nice to see almost everything work in this aspect. On the other hand, almost everything else about the movie is messy. The homages are lazy. The inevitable use of “Ride of the Valkyries” is completely wasted and a scene where the classic “We don’t need no stinking’ badges” line is brought up is painfully bad. The pacing is all over the place as the movie spends just a bit too much time setting everything up, although the payoff is really well done.
All that being said, this movie is unmissable simply due to Delroy Lindo’s performance. Lindo plays Paul, the friend of the bunch that emerges as the alpha of the group. Paul is ultimately a rehash of Dobbs from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. However, I think Spike Lee and Delroy Lindo are able to pull a few more layers from this type of character. I think the movie is most inventive when it transitions from an ensemble picture to a deconstruction of this character as he delivers multiple monologues while meandering through the jungle.
Thanks to Delroy Lindo’s memorable performance Da 5 Bloods is able to overcome its somewhat erratic and bloated plot and themes.