Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee, 2020) – Four veterans return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their fallen friend and the gold he helped them hide.

4/5

Most of us would be hard-pressed to name a single war movie that plays out through the eyes of black soldiers. When present at all, they are often relegated to the roles of minor characters. Yet in reality, they formed more than a quarter of American troops who fought in the Vietnam war, despite being just 11% of the US population.

The disproportionate casting is an issue that goes beyond the lack of minority representation in Hollywood. It is also the erasure of their experiences and perspectives, leaving behind an incomplete and hence inaccurate reflection of history.

Originally written to feature white veterans, The Last Tour could have been yet another war movie that commits the same sin. But as fate would have it, the spec script landed on Spike Lee’s lap instead. This became the perfect platform for him to call Hollywood out on its many years of racial erasure.

Renamed Da 5 Bloods, Lee’s movie now features four black veterans Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr). Decades after the war, they plan a return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their fallen leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and the gold they hid. Things complicate when Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) shows up unexpectedly, while dangers beyond minefields soon surface.

Da 5 Bloods
Roping in his son on the mission.

Greed for gold draws out mistrust that threatens the tight bond between the bloods. Flashbacks also reveal the troop’s complex states of mind. The Vietnam war had been an especially difficult time for black soldiers, with it happening concurrently with the civil rights movement in America.

As Paul puts it, “We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours for rights we didn’t have.” On the battlefield, the blacks were fighting for their country. But back home, they had to fight for themselves. Their sacrifices meant little as they continue to receive aggressive violence and unequal treatment back home post-war and even today. They defended their country that never did the same for them.

Da 5 Bloods
Not your regular boat ride.

News clips of real street violence and protests find its way into the fictional plot. We see Malcolm X denouncing the move to send black soldiers to the battlefield to die. We see Muhammad Ali expound his reasons for objecting to joining the war. We see people continuing to fight the same war, past and present.

The disjointed clips are chaotic and riotous. But as messy as it appears, that is perhaps the point. Through the montage, we watch and feel the emotional turmoil of the soldiers, trying to reconcile their burning patriotism with their reasoned impassioned anger, to keep on loving their own country that chose not to love them back.

Even sans the social commentary, Da 5 Bloods is in itself an entertaining war adventure. But with it, the film becomes a less conventional one that has been long overdue. By putting his truth forth in fiction, Spike Lee pays essential homage to the forgotten contingents in history, giving them back their voices that we all need to hear.


Chaotic imagery never dulls the impact of Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, an impactful film that reclaims a part of neglected war history.

16 thoughts on “Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods (2020)”

  1. I enjoyed this movie and you are right, it is kind of chaotic and seemed haphazard to me. But maybe that was the intent because it worked. What threw me off at first but I found helped me engage with the characters was the flashbacks having the old guys in them instead of younger actors. I don’t remember that being done before. Yes it’s been done by the same actor made to look younger, but this one just kept them old looking. I found it brilliant. Great review, Jade.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Tony, and that’s a great point you brought up! I really admire Spike Lee for always making such bold choices outside of cinematic conventions. Using the same actors also made the flashbacks more poignant, in that we see how Norman never got to grow older like his comrades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, and I saw it but didn’t see it- Norman not getting to grow older with the rest of them. Good catch, and that did add to how he was left behind, how it ended for him right there. Another thing I notice about Spike Lee movies is hard to explain (maybe I’m seeing something that isn’t there). He gives the perspective of the black population, however, he also drops subtle but ominous warnings, that without careful attention they can easily become what they abhor. They assaulted, kidnapped, killed, even left their friend behind (something soldiers don’t do), all for gold. It doesn’t negate the wrong of sending teenage minorities into an unnecessary war so defense contractors can get rich, but he did show how delicate the balance is to not do the same evils, just in a different way.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I definitely see where you’re coming from, and think you put the point across eloquently! His cautionary tale may appear to take sides, but is instead, upon introspection, a warning to the society as a whole. I love that he never stirs up controversy for controversy’s sake, despite some unfair critics claiming otherwise.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, I didn’t know that this was a spec script originally featuring white actors. That’s interesting! I really liked this film, just thought it was a bit long and I found the archive footage throughout distracted me. Reading your review makes me see Spike Lee’s intention a bit clearer! Awesome review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear from you, Daniel! 🙂 I initially found the archive footage distracting too, but later realised that without them, this would’ve been yet another war movie. And reading about that spec script trivia only made me a bigger fan of Spike Lee!

      Liked by 1 person

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