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Da 5 Bloods

Year: 2020
Production Co: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks
Studio: Netflix
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Danny Bilson/Paul De Meo/Kevin Willmott/
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Chadwick Boseman, Mélanie Thierry

There are a few directors whose movies I'll watch no matter how interested I am in the subject or premise just because of what a fan I am of their other work, and Spike Lee's one of them.

But like they alway say about Woody Allen, it's only a slightly-higher than 50/50 chance I'll like the result, but this one fell in the wrong 50 percent. The basic story is about a group of African American Vietnam veterns who return to the scene of a battle they fought to try and find a cache of riches, but (being a Spike Lee joint), it's also very much about systemic and social racism, identity and the black sense of self.

And, just like in BlacKkKlansman, the plot and themes don't sit together at all comfortably. Also like that film, the tones never sync up, and you're never quite sure what you're watching. When a group of male friends bicker and banter using some quite obvious comic dialogue, then one of them is torn more or less in half by stepping on a mine and dies in terror and pain, you're not sure if you're supposed to stop laughing or not.

Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr) meet up at a Saigon hotel for a trip that's part catch up with former friends, part healing saunter down memory lane and part treausre hunt.

Back when they were young GIs, they and their even-tempered and beloved squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman in his last role before his shocking death from colon cancer) found a downed CIA flight full of blood money loot, intending to bury it and retrieve it later. But before they can get away the Viet Cong descends, Norman dying in the ensuing stoush and the four others barely escaping alive.

Now, years later, they're back in Vietnam to put some ghosts to rest. With a young, understanding guide and Paul's grown son who's insisted on coming along, they want to retrace their steps into the jungle to find both the plane and gold but also the remains of their fallen leader so they can send him off properly.

But the trip to get there is both physically and emotionally arduous as they grapple with the immorality and waste of life they witnessed and caused. Each man has secrets in Vietnam and deals with them in his own way, often with anger and resentment like Paul's see-sawing love and rejection of his son, or Otis and his relationship with a former lady of the night with whom he fathered a now-grown and successful daughter.

There's also an aside about an activist group clearing land mines from the war who get mixed up with the bloods in all kinds of ways, just to gum up the works a bit more.

Lee is as on point as a film technician as he always is, but as a creative director he's either overstretched himself and lost control of the aesthetic here, just has a weird idea of the emotional timbre or (most likely, I hope, owing to his talent) it's just that he wants to wrong foot you with laughter one minute and vile racism or hideous death the next – although I stand by my criticims. There are movies that manage those shifts far better).

But even without the deeper tonal issues, too many problems right throughout keep yanking you out of the experience. The soundtrack by Terence Blanchard is very over the top and weird, bombastic orchestral pieces ringing out even in quite measured dramatic scenes.

The coincidences in the script are also frankly so ridiculous you can't suspend disbelief long enough to go with them. Five aging men walk into uncharted, densely forested territory and finding not only an entire planeload of gold bars but the badly decomposed body of their former friend with a handheld metal detector fifty years after the fact? Seriously?

I'm also bemused by the critics fawning over the performances. Delroy Lindo has a lot of experience and cachet as an actor but he's so expressive it borders on constant overacting anyway, and here he's not just chewing scenery, he shreds chunks of it off with his teeth and spits it all over the screen like he's machine gunning watermelon seeds. It's quite honestly painful to watch.

Finally there's the age issue. We saw the same thing years back in Tony Scott's Spy Game, where Brad Pitt was supposed to be a Vietname grunt in his late teens and then almost thirty years later he'd barely aged a day.

So little effort had been made to make the characters look 50 years younger in the flashbacks that when we first see the Viet Cong battle I wondered why the gang in the present day were suddenly dressed in army uniforms having a pitched gun battle with enemy forces. It seems all that was done was Lindo's hair was dyed darker.

I'm the only one who thinks so, but this one's a big misfire.

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