FF129 - Da 5 Bloods

Intro by Adam Pranica

We all know Spike Lee. He is one of a small handful of directors that transcend their own movies and - know it are not - we have all been waiting for him to make a war movie about black soldiers in Vietnam. Apparently we have been waiting for him to do it because despite there being a veritable goldmine of source material, a treasure trove of experience and memory from which to draw, no one else has yet made a movie out of it without putting Charlie Sheen or Robin Williams in there to interrupt the black people while they are talking.

Went Da 5 Bloods was released we bounced it to the front of our queue, as we sometimes do, and not just because it was a major motion picture event, but because it redressed a glaring imbalance in the war movie pantheon and the redresser was famous and famously engaged in the redressance. We are coming up on the 3rd anniversary of Friendly Fire and one consequence of watching and reviewing close to 250 movies is that we all see the hand of the director much more readily.

This has become John's job on Friendly Fire, and not just because it is a place you can be gracelessly middle aged, bearded, bespeckled, fat and Hawaiian-shirt-clad with no social consequences. It is maybe the most powerful storytelling job there is, especially when you can marshal millions of dollars and hundreds of people into realizing your vision.

Most of the time, a handy director is a drawback: Too many thinky effects, too much screwing with the story under the guise of telling the story, and almost any film can devolve into the acid-trip section of Easy Rider. Spike Lee is unique in this regard. Do you feel like you know who Steven Spielberg is when you watch Jaws? Does Goodfellas illuminate what it must be like to have a meal with Marty Scorsese? Boy, we sure learned a lot about Christopher Nolan after Dunkirk, right? Of course not!

And yet, after a few Spike Lee films, it feels like he is saying something directly to you about how he sees the world and he wants you to see it, too! It is a quality felt strongly in so many of his films, and especially in Da 5 Bloods. It is about black war veterans who fought together in Vietnam, returning there on a personal mission decades later, and a film that itself feels like a personal mission of Spike Lee.

Da 5 Bloods is more than a film about the Vietnam War. It is about the trauma endured by black servicemen exploited and disenfranchised by our country for generations. Four of the Bloods visit Vietnam to recover the 5th Blood's remains with a little side trip to recover a Coleman beer cooler full of gold bars, but it is the 5th Blood where I think the hand of the filmmaker is felt the most. Just as in Do The Right Thing there is Mooki, "Stormin" Norman is there to make the Bloods and us confront the historic and present day devaluation of black life in a way that feels direct and personal.

But it is Paul who is our main character, and his drama is at the forefront in a performance hauntingly portrayed by Delroy Lindo. That his dark secret isn't the source of his trauma, but rather just one of the many facets of it, is a reminder of that guilt can destroy a person just as easily as addiction or bankruptcy or a landmine. And so the Bloods, inspired by the memories of "Stormin" Norman's many civics lessons while on patrol, decide to use the gold for the benefit of their communities once they get it out of the country. That is the plan, anyway.

But to summarize the film's story as a search for gold doesn't come close to encapsulating its sprawl as a heist film, a war film, a cranky old man comedy, and a history lesson that you won't find in any high school history textbooks. It is a project of excess and urgency from a filmmaker who is making his own kind of war film in the context of the many wars that still persist today. "After you have been in a war, you understand it never really ends!" On today's Friendly Fire: Da 5 Bloods.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License