Film response: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee directs a bewilderingly soulless B-movie about Black soldiers returning to Vietnam to find gold, I kid you not, and the remains of the Black Panther.

Da 5 Bloods
Directed by Spike Lee
154 min, USA, 2020

Originally published on Letterboxd with 5 likes; and then just 4

Despite my deep affection and respect for the cast, particularly Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme) as Otis and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco), whom Lee seems to have cast primarily for his physique), this is for me the most hollow and mechanical of any Spike-Lee joint that I’ve seen, substituting broad quasi-political gestures and bizarre, pretentious monologues for incisiveness, insights, or drama; and telegraphing all the big moments like an amateur.

(Did anyone not know that Eddie was going to set off a landmine?)

The shootouts, explosions, and exploded body-parts dramatize B-movie hypocrisy, as well as adolescent war-tropes, quite well, I must say. One blood’s dismemberment by a landmine is played a la Monty Python via a tasteless and tone-skewed sight-gag; another’s sacrificial death by grenade occurs in a microsecond and is forgotten even quicker. A sweaty, worn-out-looking Jean Reno stalks the final, violent stretch seemingly to lend generic weight to an embarrassing set-piece, for both him and Lee. The characters and their big dramatic moments, such as they are, play out frosh-level shallow and banal, especially any scene involving the Vietnamese characters. I’m still trying to figure out what the trio of landmine-removers were doing in this movie. If Lee intended them to provide some moral balance, he’s high.

Notwithstanding the tacked-on, rushed subplot of Otis having a Vietnamese daughter, I think Lee would have been better off just pulling the normal American filmmaking bullshit of not even allowing Vietnamese characters the status of humans. At least that would have been more honest and historical. When the chips are down and the bullets are flying, Lee expects us to take for granted that the loyalty of the Vietnamese guide, Vinh Tran (Johnny Trí Nguyen) would remain with the Bloods, no matter the cost, not because they’re Black — that at least would have been a novel conceit — but because they’re American. That may be the most depressing and reactionary detail of the whole, long-ass mess.

At this point, after firing blanks (Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) or near-misses (BlacKkKlansman and Malcolm X) for so many years, I’m not sure Spike is able to make convincing fiction films anymore. Now that our most well-known and lauded Black auteur is taking cues from Quentin Tarantino, of all directors, it seems like an indicator that American mainstream film culture in general is in a little bit of trouble. This isn’t the worst American movie set in Vietnam — although I’d have to think a bit to find one more disappointing — but it’s damn close.

Written with StackEdit.

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