Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods came along at the right time.
These days, the streets are covered with protesters – Black, white, whatever – officially fed the fuck up with an utterly broken police system, a system where an officer can kill an African-American man like George Floyd in broad daylight (while a woman films the whole thing on her phone) and not to be charged with murder until a few days later. Peaceful protests across the country have turned into brutal clusterfucks, thanks mostly to police forces officially giving zero fucks, beating, pepper spraying, tear gassing and shooting (with rubber bullets, of course) whoever they see – and that includes the elderly!
Not since the unrest of the ‘60s, when people marched and protested over civil rights, equal rights, the Vietnam War, etc., have we seen this country in such divisive chaos. (Don’t even get me started on the gotdamn Karens!) I guess we can thank that orange sack of hair, McNuggets, and bullshit – who’s been hiding in the White House like a bitch since all this started – for reminding us that not all men are created equal.
Of course, Lee has been telling you this shit for decades now. Now going into his fifth decade as a filmmaker, Lee has created an oeuvre that mostly consisted of alerting Black audiences of the bum deal they’ve had (and continue to have) in America – as well as letting white audiences know if they’re not down with the struggle, they’re part of the problem.
It’s no surprise that his latest film (now streaming on Netflix), is a fiery shit-starter. After all, Lee has been on a nice, full-fledged, Fuck-the-Man run with Chi-Raq (2015) and BlacKkKlansman (2018), which finally put an Oscar in his hands. (It was for Best Adapted Screenplay, but still.) But the release of Bloods is eerily well-timed. As much as I’m sure many of you would like to watch something that takes your mind off the sheer madness that’s going on right now, Bloods serves as a reminder that Black pain – especially the Black pain so many people are fighting over, outside your front door – is as American as apple pie.
Four African-American vets – Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) – travel back to Vietnam to retrieve a couple of things: the remains of their squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman, charismatic as always), and the gold bars that they found and buried. Also tagging along is Eddie (Jonathan Majors), Paul’s estranged son, who blackmails his way into joining this adventure. But he’s really there to keep an eye on his haunted old man.
Since this is a Spike Lee film, there is much more to the story, which, being the heist actioner that it is, has its obvious but fair share of tension, paranoia, helpful allies, surprising villains, and inevitable bloodshed. Nearly all the characters have moments where they’re ranting about forgotten heroes (Crispus Attucks gets a shout!) or equally forgotten atrocities (anybody remember the My Lai Massacre?). Lee has them comment on everything from the opioid crisis to school shootings to those “fugazi Rambo movies” that romanticized the war.
Lee and his frequent collaborator Kevin Willmott reworked a script from Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo in order to make not just another film – Three Kings (1999), anyone? – about frustrated vets helping themselves to some gold. Lee is also speaking on behalf of the brothas and sistas who fought and served for Uncle Sam, even though their people were going through their own battles back home. In full-frame flashbacks (where the older actors assume their younger selves; I guess Lee couldn’t afford that The Irishman (2019) de-aging technology), Stormin’ Norman hips his platoon to how Whitey will always have his knee on their necks. “Every time I walk out my front door and see cops patrolling my neighborhood like it’s some kind of police state,” he tells him, pointing a gun right at them, “I can feel just how much I ain’t worth.” (A lot of us feel ya, bruh.)
Their experiences at war and at home constantly hang over these gents throughout the film, as their secrets and demons come into focus when they’re back in the shit, just as scared, threatened, and ready to get the fuck outta Dodge as they were in their young, AK-47-toting prime. Longtime Lee vet Lindo pulls out the most anger and fury in his performance, as his MAGA hat-wearing vet’s PTSD works overtime to the point where he starts wandering the jungle, giving startling, straight-up monologues to the camera.
As an action-adventure, Da 5 Bloods is decent. But as a movie that forces you to recognize how unforgiving our country has been towards anyone whose skin isn’t pale – from the foreigners who we go to war with to the Black soldiers we send to kill ‘em all – it’s another raw and thought-provoking one from a filmmaker who, thankfully, can’t do it any other way.
“Da 5 Bloods” is now streaming on Netflix.