REVIEW: ‘Da 5 Bloods’ falters due to storytelling

Maybe Spike Lee should have used a five-part mini-series to tell the story of “Da 5 Bloods.”

This film, released recently on Netflix, is about four veterans who return to Vietnam decades after they fought in the war. The men who go to the country include Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.).

They journeyed to the country for two primary reasons. One is to return to the place where their friend and fellow soldier Norman (Chadwick Boseman) died to collect his remains and bring them back to the States. The other reason is to collect gold they found and buried there when they were soldiers. Joining them on this journey is Paul’s estranged son David (Jonathan Majors).

“Da 5 Bloods” was two and a half hours long, and at times it felt longer. At its core, the film has a fairly simple premise, four guys return to a place to collect a treasure they left behind.

That’s all well and good, but the film bites off way more than it can chew with too many subplots, to the point where it sort of loses focus on what the whole thing’s about. There’s an unnecessary romance with the character David, there’s a subplot about one of the veterans having a daughter who grew up in Vietnam that seems excessive and there were even arguably too many war flashbacks.

On top of its many story threads that are featured, the movie also includes many sequences of real footage and photographs from the Vietnam War era, padding the film even more. All of this could work in a mini-series with multiple parts where more time is available, but here it makes the movie feel bloated.

This is a film about four veterans dealing with PTSD while still trying to pull off this sort of heist. It could be a lot more streamlined. Lee did just that with his last (shorter) film “BlacKkKlansman,” which was a focused cop-crime drama that was still all about the messaging.

Courtesy 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks and Netflix.

This isn’t to say that a film can’t have a long runtime, but “Da 5 Bloods” is just messy in its execution, too. There are large chunks where the movie meanders and rambles, with little direction or urgency. It’s also noticeable how tones shift a bit too much and where the film over telegraphs what’s going to happen next to the point where it saps tension.

Despite having complaints, there’s still plenty of good in “Da 5 Bloods.” There are some great moments here displaying PTSD, character monologues featured are powerful and Lee’s ability to deliver his film’s messages remains forceful and sticks with an audience.

The cast also deserves credit here. Lindo is especially memorable, delivering a superb, passionate performance. Jonathan Majors, who was in last year’s fine movie “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” returns with really solid work here.

The only real problem with the cast is the older actors also play the younger versions of their characters during the war flashback scenes, and it’s incredibly jarring. I’ve heard different theories on this, ranging from the film not having the budget to digitally de-age the characters, to it being a style-choice. Regardless, it can immediately take a person out of the film.

There’s a good movie in “Da 5 Bloods” but its bogged down and buried under too many issues. The movie is too long because of shoe-horned subplots, it feels all over the place, and the flashbacks throw a person off. 2.75 out of 5.



Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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