"Da Five Bloods" Movie Review
by Luke Rapallo ‘24
WARNING: Images of war, and death.
Spike Lee’s newest movie, Da 5 Bloods strives and succeeds at connecting the political turmoil of the 1970s in the United states with America’s current political state. While doing that, it also covers how those events in the 1970s have affected future generations. Possibly the most up front theme is the black experience in America and how it has changed from the 1970s to today. The cast includes Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Mélanie Thierry, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Da 5 Bloods opens with archival video footage of Mohammed Ali criticising the Vietnam War, saying that the Vietnamese people had done nothing to him anywhere near as bad as what America had done to him. That is immediately followed by a series of videos from the 1970s that gives you the idea of what was happening at the time, this scene includes, war, protest, the moon landing, the draft and many other things. All of this is accompanied by the song “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye which further entrenches the viewer into the early 1970s. This song is a good example of what is to come score-wise throughout.
Da 5 Bloods has an excellent score. It has many songs from the era to deepen the viewers experience, including many Marvin Gaye songs. The music created for the film was also very well done. There was one instance that specifically stuck out. It was during a flashback to the Vietnam War where our main characters were ambushed and had to have a firefight. Suddenly an orchestra swells and plays a song that sounds like they were both sad to have been in such an awful situation, that is fighting a war, and somehow also reminiscent, like they were imagining war as “the good ol days.”
Despite the 70s setup, the real first scene starts in 2020. We meet four black Vietnam War veterans who are blood brothers. They are planning on hiking through the Jungle they fought in when they were younger, and finding the remains of their fifth brother who did not make it home. However there is also a large cache of gold that the group discovered in the 70s and planned to bring home one day to help the black community. The scene where the five of them discover the gold is the first flashback scene and it has two very effective devices that demonstrate a feeling of the past. These two devices are quite experimental uses of film grain and aspect ratio. During scenes set during the war, the aspect ratio shifts to nearly a square to represent the televisions of old which is how many people in America experienced the Vietnam War. The other device is a heavy amount of film grain which also plays towards the old television style.
Eventually the group finds the gold and there is a dispute about what to do with it. Over the course of the movie the gold divides them, with some of the group wanting to use the gold for their own selfish reasons, and the rest of the group wanting to use it for Norm’s intended purpose. Eventually the majority of them die and the money is given to various black charities.
The movie ends with more archival footage of MLK giving a speech. He quotes a Langston Hughes poem that says “ O yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, and yet I swear America will be!” Just as that quote fills you with hope, and reminds you of how much progress we as a country have made, shortly after a red text scroll come on screen that says “Exactly one year later to the day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a devout critic of the Vietnam War, was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in these United States of America.” This quote serves to remind us that even though we as a country have made great progress, there is still a lot of distance to cover.
Overall I really enjoyed Da 5 Bloods’s themes and experimental uses of archival footage and aspect ratios, however there were some more technical things that I think could definitely be improved upon. More specifically I think the film definitely could have benefited from a stronger structure. The pacing of this movie suffered from a too long first act, and a hurried and confused third act. At times it feels a little aimless, and with the two and a half hour run time, those moments take away from some of the truly great aspects of the movie. Despite that, those great aspects still managed to shine through, one of these bright moments was Delroy Lindo’s performance. He beautifully conveyed the pained state of many of America’s veterans, as well as coming off as genuinely scary at some points. The cinematography was static for the majority of the film however there were certain moments that blew me away in the cinematography department. They were able to create effective imagery that sticks with viewers days after watching the film. Some of the best examples of this are Norm’s remains and the white suit of one of the characters in the film.
Da 5 Bloods is a movie that attempts to cover many themes, including racism, war, protest, family, actions and their consequences, and American political turmoil. It succeeds at many of these things; however, many of those successful things are bogged down by weak story structure. I believe Da 5 Bloods is important now more than ever and we could all learn something from it.