Spike Lee follows up his great “Blackkklansman” with a lengthy– two and half hours– war opera, his own exploration of his heart of darkness, in “Da 5 Bloods.”
This ambitious often circuitous film starts on Netflix on Friday. It was supposed to play in Cannes, out of competition, where Spike was going to be head of the jury. Then it would have a two week theatrical showcase before moving to Netflix. But you know what happened. Frankly, I think Netflix is perfect for it. Maybe in the fall they can do a little theatrical run but with the length and a screenplay of varying tones, watch it at home.
I never got tired of “Da 5 Bloods,” and never considered fast forwarding it. So many things work in its favor: the cast, the music, the cinematography, and Spike’s overall sensibility as a director. He doesn’t fail to make every piece of this effort watchable.
There’s a lot going on. Four Army buddies are going to back to Vietnam to find the remains of their dead buddy, and a treasure they buried in the jungle. Delroy Lindo is their Captain Kurtz. Clarke Peters, the brilliant Norm Lewis, and Isaiah Whitlock Jr are the guys. The movie is set in current times, so the ages don’t track. Jonathan Majors, on his way to being a star, is Lindo’s son.
They’re constantly reflecting on their lost buddy, Stormin Norman, played by Chadwick Boseman. Spike does something cool, he re-enacts their Vietnam War experiences using the older actors playing their younger selves. They are average age 60 something. Boseman is frozen in time as his young self. You have to make some leaps here, but they’re not so tough. Everyone in the ensemble is excellent, though Lindon has been written the Marlon Brando role. He chews the jungle scenery thoroughly. I really enjoyed Peters and Whitlock. Lewis stands out.
The quest back into the jungle to find Norman’s bones and some gold bricks is a riff on “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” But otherwise, Spike references a lot of movies, most especially “Apocalypse Now.” When the guys arrive in Saigon they go to a bar named for the movie. And when they go up river into the jungle, Wagner is heard. Ok, we get it.
As with all Spike Lee movies, the music is very important. Much of it is from Marvin Gaye’s classic 1971 album, “What’s Going On.” There’s some other period pop stuff including the Chambers Brothers, but Marvin is the musical star of this film. There’s also a lush, melodic orchestral score by Terence Blanchard.
Will they find the gold? Will they all live? I can’t say. You will want to see how this thing works out. But “Da 5 Bloods” is not here just to tell show us a treasure hunt. Spike is very timely– Black Lives Matter is front and center, so is the discussion of black soldiers killed in Vietnam. Not only that, we have a very well fed Jean Reno playing a Trumpian character complete with MAGA hat. Even though da 5 bloods are on a trip to reclaim their past, there’s plenty of the present — right up to the minute– to snap us back into reality.