Released: 12th June
Seen: 27th June
Throughout the year, I keep a document listing every film I see. I do this mostly as a refresher for when I make my end of year lists and the Oscar predictions, since some films may have been amazing but because my memory is so iffy sometimes I may not think about it right off the bat. I also keep a second list, a ‘potential best and worst’ list so if something stands out as particularly good or particularly bad then I won’t forget it when the time comes to make those lists. By June of last year, I had a top 10 best list I could’ve posted and still had to make some really painful cuts. This year? I barely have a top 5 I feel that confident about, that’s how empty this year has felt. You can undoubtedly blame most of this on the current plague we’re experiencing that has pushed so many films back over a year and only left us with streaming films. Add to that the general rule that the prestige films tend to wait until around the time the Oscar nominations are being sorted out and it’s been a slow year and someone needed to throw something out to fill the void… enter Spike Lee.
A Spike Lee joint is almost guaranteed to be a bright spot in a year of film and Da 5 Bloods is no exception. Set in Vietnam, the movie tells the story of a group of soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division who named themselves “Bloods”. When they were fighting the war in Vietnam they had the job of securing a pile of gold bars that were to be delivered to that Lahu people but instead, they buried it and are now back there to not only retrieve the gold but also the remains of one of their fallen brothers. Throughout the film, we watch as this group slowly explores a place they only remember from combat and see this once tight-knit group slowly tear themselves apart in their quest.
As an ensemble piece, this film starts slow and grows into something genuinely special. Relegating most of the actual war footage to flashbacks (shot with Vietnam War era-appropriate film, a nice touch) most of it is just watching this group of friends slowly tear themselves apart due to greed, paranoia or secrets that they’ve been holding onto since the days of Vietnam. Each of the Bloods that make up the core of the movie bounce off each other so well and provide us with genuinely great moments, aided by stellar performances by an ensemble that makes every scene an utter delight. You know your main cast is special when the Black Panther is the least important character… yeah, the trailer might’ve done a touch of lying by selling the film on scenes with Chadwick Boseman when he’s probably in the film the least out of everyone, but when he’s the one who stands out the least then that tells you how great the main cast actually are.
Every one of our ensemble gets a great moment, from Norm Lewis’ Eddie trying to talk everyone into donating their newfound riches to good causes to Isiah Whitrock Jr’s Melvin excitedly searching for treasure to Clarke Peters’ Otis having to deal with learning about a child he fathered during the war. All of them are incredible and worthy of high praise, but the film itself just belongs to Delroy Lindo as Paul in a role that is just the meatiest thing I’ve ever seen. A Trump-supporting paranoid asshole who is trying to work on his relationship with his son who he’s dragged along on this quest. He is really the driving force of most of the conflict and has several scenes that could best be described as ‘his inevitable Oscar clip’. He manages to make you go between hating him then rooting for him and then back to hating him all within the course of a single scene.
This isn’t to say the film is perfect, it’s not. It takes a while to really get going and the pacing at points feels a little off, to the point where I found myself almost losing interest until Delroy Lindo would do something else to grab my attention again. At two and a half hours, it’s ambitious as hell but I could see them tightening it up a little and making the film flow better. Part of this could just be that Spike Lee’s last film BlacKkKlansman spoiled me by being one of the best films of that year and with a bar that high it’s hard to match it, but there are enough things about this film that don’t quite work (mostly a pacing thing for the first chunk of the film) that it doesn’t quite feel as good as the last thing Spike made, even though it’s still really good.
Da 5 Hoods is another of those Spike Lee joints that will entertain you but will also make you think, throwing out little nudges at the events of today as only Spike can do. With at least one performance that we will probably be talking about a year from now and some genuinely great cinematography, it’s another genuinely great movie that’s put a big smile on my face if for no other reason than I can actually say “I saw a really good movie” again, something I don’t feel like I’ve been able to say that often this year.