Wednesday, September 02, 2020
Da 5 Bloods
***In Memory of Chadwick Boseman (1976-2020) Rest in Power***
Directed by Spike Lee and screenplay by Lee, Kevin Willmott, Danny Bilson, and Paul De Meo from a story by Bilson and De Meo, Da 5 Bloods is the story of four Vietnam War veterans who return to the country to find the remains of their fallen leader as well as treasure they buried during the war. The film is an adventure-action story of sorts where a group of men return to Vietnam as they reflect on their time in the war as well as what was gained and wasn’t gained in their service as well as deal with demons from the past. Starring Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Melanie Thierry, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman as Norman Earl “Stormin’ Norman” Holloway. Da 5 Bloods is a gripping and evocative film from Spike Lee.
The film is the story of four men who served in the Vietnam War as they return to the country to retrieve the remains of their fallen leader as well as gold they had buried many years ago in the hopes of regaining it. It is a film with a simple premise as these four men who fought in the war as they are aware of the dark history of what African-American soldiers had endured as they hope to use the gold for something bigger than themselves. Yet, they return to Vietnam as older men who saw a country that has changed into something different but the past still looms in them. The film’s screenplay by Spike Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, and Kevin Willmott does follow a traditional narrative yet it does have elements of flashbacks and insight about the war and the many different perspectives from those who were involved as well as how the world saw it. At the center of the story are these four men in Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who return to Vietnam hoping to get the gold this time for themselves and whoever they felt need it.
Joining the four men is Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) who is concerned about his father’s state of mind since Paul suffers from PTSD as well as spouting rhetoric that his fellow Bloods don’t follow as they’re also disturbed by the fact that he wears a MAGA cap. Otis’ return to Vietnam is more personal as it relates to a former lover he has in Tien (Le Y Lan) who gives Otis connections on where the gold is with the aid of a French smuggler in Desroche (Jean Reno) who wants a cut of the gold as an offer to get it out of Vietnam. The second act is about the journey to the jungle with the aid of a guide named Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen) who stays behind at a rendezvous point once they finish their journey. Yet, things become complicated as it relates to Paul but also for Otis, Eddie, and Melvin as they’re aware that they’re getting older as the trip back would be even more difficult. Even as they meet a landmine clearing organization group who have put themselves in trouble leading to all sorts of chaos relating to Paul’s paranoia.
Spike Lee’s direction does bear element of style in not just its visuals but also in the way he presents modern-day Vietnam as well as Vietnam in the past. Shot on location in Ho Chi Minh City as well as locations in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Lee does present a world that has changed yet there is still some lingering resentment from the Vietnamese over the war such as a scene where a young man on a boat tries to sell some fruit only to upset Paul leading some harsh racial words and such. Even as Lee showcases that there are those who are trying to be respectful yet Paul is someone on the verge of going apeshit due to his PTSD as well as some harboring secrets he is carrying. Lee’s compositions are straightforward but also with some stylish compositions where he does use a lot of wide shots to not just establish the locations but also to get a scope of where the characters are at as the jungle itself is a character in the film as it is unforgiving and intense. Especially as there’s areas involving landmines where the people at LAMB come into play despite the fact that David had met them earlier.
Lee’s usage of close-ups and medium shots also play into the drama and exchanges between characters as much of the scenes in present-day Vietnam is shot on digital while the flashback scenes involving Stormin’ Norman is shot on 16mm film stock with a different aspect ratio that allows Lee to bring an air of realism as well as distinctive look of those times. Lee also uses stock footage and such about the Vietnam War including pictures of those who had fallen including African-American soldiers as it relates to the racial inequality that these men endured. Lee also doesn’t shy away from using film references where both Apocalypse Now and Treasure of the Sierra Madre are referenced as it does play into the story. Notably as things do intensify in its third act as it play into this showdown between Da Bloods and these Vietnamese gunmen over the gold the former had found though it the gold also has this history of why it played a part in the war in the first place. Even as it forces these four old veterans to deal with other forces as it all play into the fallacy of greed. Overall, Lee crafts a riveting and intoxicating film about four former Vietnam veterans returning to the country to find gold and the remains of their fallen leader.
Cinematographer Newton Thomas Siegel does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key lighting for some scenes set at night along with the usage of filters for the nighttime scenes in the jungle along with the stylish usage of grainy 16mm film stock for the flashback scenes. Editor Adam Gough does excellent work with the editing as it does have some stylish cuts while maintaining unique rhythms to play into the emotions as well as letting shots linger on for nearly a minute to play into the drama. Production designer Wynn Thomas, with set decorator Jeanette Scott plus art directors Truong Trung Dao, Anusorn “Sorn” Musicabutr, and Jeremy Woolsey, does amazing work with the look of a club where the Da Bloods go to upon their arrival in Ho Chi Minh City as well as a hotel the four men plus David stay where they meet the people from LAMB. Costume designer Donna Berwick does terrific work with the costumes as it is largely straightforward to play into the personality of the characters as well as the design of the uniforms the soldiers wore back in the 60s.
Special effects supervisor Herbert Blank and visual effects supervisor Richard Baker do fantastic work with some of the film’s action scenes as well as a few visual effects involving the flashbacks without the need to de-age the actors with the exception of a picture for the film’s ending. Sound editor Philip Stockton does superb work with the sound as it plays into the atmosphere of the jungles as well as the sounds of gunfire and explosions that occur in some of the action scenes. The film’s music by Terence Blanchard is incredible for its orchestral based score filled with heavy string arrangements that play into the action and drama as well as low-key somber pieces for the emotional moments of the film while music supervisor Rochelle Claerbaut creates a soundtrack that largely features the music of Marvin Gaye including six songs from his 1971 album What’s Going On as the soundtrack also feature a famed classical piece from Richard Wagner and music by Curtis Mayfield, Freda Payne, the Spinners, and the Chamber Brothers.
The casting by Kim Coleman is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from Veronica Ngo as the Vietcong radio broadcaster Hanoi Hannah, Sandy Huong Pham as Tien’s daughter Michon, Nguyen Ngoc Lam as a leader of a gang of gunmen wanting the gold, Le Y Tien as Otis’ former Vietnamese girlfriend Tien, Jasper Paakkonen as a member of LAMB in Seppo, and Paul Walter Hauser as an American member of LAMB in Simon. Jean Reno is superb as the slimy smuggler Desroche as a Frenchman who offers to help Da Bloods in getting the gold out with a price only to make things worse during its third act. Melanie Thierry is fantastic as Hedy Bouvier as a LAMB leader whom David meets as she is a woman who uses her own wealth to clear landmines and wants to do something good for the world. Johnny Tri Nguyen is excellent as the Vietnamese guide Vinh who helps Da Blood go through the country and into the jungle while also having to deal with the gunmen as he would prove his worth to the team. Jonathan Major is brilliant as Paul’s son David as a man who joins the Da Bloods in the journey as he is concerned for his father’s PTSD as well as doing what he can to help everyone else as he would have a near-death encounter with a landmine.
Chadwick Boseman is amazing as “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway as the leader of Da Bloods who was a warrior as he would get the men to try and do the right thing despite being killed in battle as he would also appear in a vision during a dramatically-intense moment in the film. Norm Lewis is incredible as Eddie as a car salesman who helps fund the whole thing to find Norman’s body while he copes with his own issues as he also laments over the journey involving the gold. Isiah Whitlock Jr. is remarkable as Melvin as the one former soldier who is trying get everyone on check while also trying to do what is right as he is kind of the conscience of the group. Clarke Peters is marvelous as Otis as a soldier who is close to everyone as well as David’s godfather where he is concerned for Paul but is also forced to defend himself as it relates to his relationship with Tien. Finally, there’s Delroy Lindo in a phenomenal as Paul as a war veteran with PTSD and lots of emotional baggage while wearing a MAGA hat as he spouts racial rhetoric that makes everyone uncomfortable as Lindo provides that air of anguish and torment into his character as a man that is lost in his guilt.
Da 5 Bloods is a spectacular film from Spike Lee. Featuring a phenomenal ensemble cast, sprawling visuals, a compelling story of greed, guilt, and loss, Terence Blanchard’s soaring music score, and strong commentary about African-Americans’ role in the Vietnam War. It is definitely a film that isn’t just this reflective war movie but also a film that explores four men dealing with loss and wanting to bring some good to the world despite the complications they endure with the world. In the end, Da 5 Bloods is a sensational film from Spike Lee.
Spike Lee Films: (She’s Gotta Have It) – (School Daze) – Do the Right Thing - Mo' Better Blues - Jungle Fever - (Malcolm X) – Crooklyn - (Clockers) – (Girl 6) – (Get on the Bus) – 4 Little Girls - (He Got Game) – John Leguizamo's Freak - Summer of Sam - (The Original Kings of Comedy) – (Bamboozled) – (A Huey P. Newton Story) – 25th Hour - (Jim Brown: All-American) – (She Hate Me) – (Inside Man) – (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) – (Miracle at St. Anna) – (Kobe Doin’ Work) – (Passing Strange) – (If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise) – (Red Hook Summer) – Bad 25 - Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth - (Oldboy (2013 film)) – (Da Blood of Jesus) – (Chiraq) – Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall - BlackKklansman - (American Utopia)
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