Da 5 Bloods is a bit of a puzzler.
On the one hand, Spike Lee's newest (and a Netflix exclusive) boasts a totally stacked cast featuring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Chadwick Boseman, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr., and is one of the most exciting coming-together of actors in recent memory. On the other hand, confusing pacing and jarring editing make for a challenging watch.
Not that it's hard to follow—at its core, Da 5 Bloods is a story of brotherhood, racism and the chilling American history of black folks fighting in foreign wars only to come home and face age-old oppression, violence and worse—but odd choices can sometimes get in the way of otherwise thrilling story beats, tight writing and cleverly inserted homage to notable black people throughout history.
We join its four main heroes (Lindo, Peters, Lewis and Whitlock Jr.) in the present day on a trip back to Vietnam years after they fought there. What seems at first like a holiday reveals itself to be the completion of a pact with a now-dead friend and squadmate (Boseman), with whom the titular Bloods had found a crateful of gold at the height of war. Circumstance has prevented them from returning for the millions, but with each facing personal dilemmas back home, the gold comes to represent a parachute; each Blood eventually admits his struggles, strengthening bonds and deepening relationships (Lee's longstanding history of positively portraying hetero male intimacy should be taught in schools).
Particularly of note are Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco) and Lindo, a complicated father-son duo that nudges Da 5 Bloods into a deep bit of character study; Peters, as the collected voice of reason, impresses as well, even if the story he's ultimately given feels shoehorned; Jean Reno as a ne'er-do-well money launderer-type makes sense in context, but adds little to the tale, while Whitlock Jr. and Lewis don't have much to contend with—even if they disappear into their respective roles with ease.
Still, Da 5 Bloods is packed with gorgeous cinematography and timely reminders of the sacrifices black Americans are often expected to make. Lee weaves in real-life Vietnam footage and history alongside harsh truths. It's a bit stark, of course, but welcome. As a movie judged on its own merits, it's flawed and downright weird at times—as an entry in the cultural lexicon (particularly at a moment wherein educating ourselves, especially when we're white people, isn't just important, it's mandatory), it's a don't-miss.
+The cast; the history; the visuals
-Odd pacing; some plot points feel crammed in
Da 5 Bloods
Directed by Lee
With Lindo, Majors, Peters, Lewis, Whitlock Jr. and Boseman
Netflix, R, 154 min.