A Polarizing Treasure Hunt
Da 5 Bloods is a film that will almost certainly divide audiences, more so than usual when it comes to Spike Lee films. This filmmaker has always had a knack for filling his pictures with important political and cultural messages and for the most part, it works incredibly well and captures the heart and essence of the time period it’s been released in. Lee’s latest film, Da 5 Bloods, makes for a pretty difficult watch at times. Not difficult in terms of its cultural messaging but difficult for almost every other aspect of its production, which at best revels in mediocrity and at it’s worst, misses the mark in a big way.
The film plays out as a politically charged commentary on the way black people were treated leading up to – and during – the Vietnam War. Following a pretty slick introduction that combines archival footage with an introduction to our main characters, the film takes around an hour to set the scene as this treasure hunt gets underway. It’s during this time we get accustomed to the lives of Eddie, Otis, Paul, and Melvin, the four Vietnam vets whom we follow through the duration of the film. We’re also introduced to Paul’s son David too, and after some drinking, hiking and lots of discussion surrounding politics, the treasure hunt ends for these five almost as quickly as it begins.
The trouble is, these four soldiers – whether ironically or by accident – exhibit the exact same hateful xenophobic traits these four bemoan about modern United States. Their violent acts toward the people in Vietnam across this period of the film make it incredibly difficult to empathise with their journey and during the second half this is made worse by some really questionable directorial choices, both in editing and framing, that makes Da 5 Bloods feel far longer than the already-bloated 2.5 hour run-time would have you believe.
Along the way, Spike Lee adds his usual commentary on the state of affairs both culturally and politically with many hard cuts to stock photos and expository text. It’s something that offsets the pacing of the scene they crop up in and is only made worse by the music. If there’s one thing Da 5 Bloods should be held accountable for, it’s how not to score a film. Whether it be playing Ride of the Valkyries over establishing shots of a gentle river cruise or joyous, upbeat brass songs during a tense shoot-out during a flashback in Vietnam, the music only works to juxtapose what’s happening in the scene rather rather than harmonize alongside it.
Even worse, one incredibly tense moment late on sees the musical score cut out completely and pave way for silence, save for the creatures in the jungle, as the group are forced to try and save David from a difficult situation.
To be fair though there are some enjoyable elements to this and the ending almost makes the long slog worth it. The powerful montage during the film’s climax does an excellent job bringing the themes of brotherhood, racism and post-war trauma to the forefront of this film and close things out in the best way. I’m a huge fan of artistic films and there’s no denying there’s a lot of artistry thrown into this one. There’s so much going on though that tonally, the film turns on a dime so frequently that it loses a distinct voice while telling its story.
Ina bid to create something a little bit different from the norm, Spike Lee misses the mark in a big way and unfortunately Da 5 Bloods is unlikely to hit Da 5 Star rating for a good portion of its watching audience.