As protestors across the country continue demanding racial equality and an end to police brutality, Director Spike Lee combines message making with classic storytelling in his new Netflix project, Da Five Bloods. As in his Oscar winning screenplay for Blackkklansman and all his other projects, Lee deals with racism head on, shouting out for equity and accountability. Interspersing historic images and footage with dramatic action, he hammers home his messages with solid conviction.
As for the classics, Lee consciously draws from other movie greats in his story dealing with the Viet Nam War, or the American War as locals in country call it. The Viet Nam setting instantly brings to mind Frances Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. A poster for the film shows up, along with effective use of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” music. Coppola realized Viet Nam offered ideal elements for retelling the Joseph Conrad classic Heart of Darkness. Similarly, Lee revisits elements from the great Treasure of the Sierra Madre when his main characters explore a rugged land in a hunt for gold. Both stories address greed and insanity and Lee happily works in a line about not needing any stinkin’ badges.
But his Five Blood project adds other dimensions with its castigation of war, racism, and multitudes of injustices. Lee never rushes through any of the plot’s many details. While some might go for snappier cuts, Lee gives scenes time and lets them sink in. Superb cinematography and location filming enhance the mix, though the special effects budget did not extend to any de-aging tricks for flashback scenes. Slightly disconcerting at first when men in their fifties play young soldiers, the performers make it work.
For Da Five Bloods, much of the heart from this darkness comes with dynamic acting.
Chadwick Boseman, or Black Panther to Marvel movie fans, brings popular currency to the film, but all cast members transform into their characters. Delroy Lindo especially shines with the flashiest role and performance, combining force and subtlety as a long-time sufferer of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. From acting to important observations, Lee’s cinematic skill and passion make Da Five Bloods stand out as compelling and meaningful moviemaking.