Brotherhood of Man

Following his Oscar-winning BlackKklansman, Spike Lee is back with another hand-grenade of a movie. Da 5 Bloods arrives with uncanny timing, in the wake of the unlawful police killing of George Floyd in the US. Lee’s film is not about police brutality, but it touches on issues that feel all too appropriate right now. By the time a sequence plays out in the office of a Black Lives Matter group, you’d think Lee had made the film last week.

On the surface, Da 5 Bloods is a story of four American veterans who return to the Vietnam years after the war ended to look for their buddy, Norm (Chadwick Boseman), who never returned. Adding to the mix is a stash of gold bullion they buried in the jungle, which they intend to find and split, lending the film the feel of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the classic tale of greed starring Humphrey Bogart.

Returning to ’Nam, where they hook up with Jean Reno’s shady financier, who is going to re-route the retrieved gold via a bank in Macau, the four “bloods” are Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and, most significantly, the troubled Paul (Delroy Lindo), a Trump-supporter furious with the world.

When Paul’s estranged son David (Jonathan Majors) decides to hitch along for the ride, it adds further complications to their already fraught mission. As he did for BlackKklansman, Lee also deploys some well-chosen documentary footage – here detailing the US troops brought in to quell the protests when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated just at the time “the bloods” were in Vietnam.

While the film is ostensibly an action-drama – Lee directs the shoot-out scenes well and with the minimum of fuss – it’s really questioning American society’s treatment of African-Americans, of war veterans and, of course, of the Vietnamese who lost loved ones. It’s a complex set of dynamics, and while the two-and-a-half hour running time is overlong, Lee packages it up impressively.

Of the performers, Lindo – who last worked with Lee twenty-five years ago on Clockers – is the shining star, offering a sketch of a man falling apart at the seams. With a Marvin Gaye-inspired soundtrack, Da 5 Bloods is a worthy addition to the catalogue of ’Nam films at any time. But right now, as the world must come to understand what the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ actually means, it feels like essential viewing.

Da 5 Bloods is available on Netflix from 12 June. For more details, click here.

James Mottram