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Da 5 Bloods Movie Review

Spike Lee's indisputable gift as a director is to connect the past and the present in his films, which he does seamlessly in his latest, "Da 5 Bloods." Despite a lengthy and accomplished career, Lee inexplicably only recently earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Director for "BlacKkKlansman" (and won his first competitive Oscar for co-writing the screenplay) and is likely to find himself back at the Oscars - in whichever form they take in the COVID-19 era - with this across-the-board contender. Like "BlacKkKlansman," which was set in the 1970s, here Lee comments on the present-day climate (a certain red hat makes an appearance), because he is always interested in juxtaposing then and now. Wherever you come down on his films, Spike Lee is always able to start a conversation.
"Da 5 Bloods" follows four Vietnam veterans: Paul (Delroy Lindo, The Good Fight), Otis (Clarke Peters, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Eddie (Norm Lewis, Mrs. America) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., The Mist). Their lifelong friendship formed in the 1970s when they served together, and decades later they return to Vietnam to settle some unfinished business. During the war, their leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman, "Avengers: Endgame") found a chest full of gold bars, which he marked for a special reason. Norman did not come home from the war, so the four remaining Bloods set their sights on finding the gold and their former leader's remains. Paul's son David (Jonathan Majors, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco") joins them on their quest.

The movie is one of Lee's best-crafted crafted films, cutting between the Bloods' present-day return to Vietnam and the war, and shifting as it does in aspect ratios and formats. The scenes set during the war are much more condensed, and shot on film, designating the past and operating as the characters' memory more than a standard flashback. Lee has never been a "neat" filmmaker, but his visual flair always keeps his movies interesting and viewers invested because he doesn't try to present a straightforward story. It's easy to get caught up in the landscapes and photography (shot by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel), which submerge us in the setting and put us on the ground and in the mud with the Bloods.

On its surface, "Da 5 Bloods" is a war picture with a treasure hunt element, and it's certainly that, but the script (by Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Willmott) offers a much deeper character study. The adventure aspect is deeply engrossing, but the movie is elevated by both the overt and more subtle ways that time has taken a toll on the main four. Each character is given agency, but Lindo gets to shine in carrying the gamut of emotions that Paul has held onto since fighting with his fellow Bloods. It's a deeply moving performance by a longtime actor we've often taken for granted.

"Da 5 Bloods" is unabashedly old fashioned in a way we don't see anymore. Its sprawling length (just over two-and-a-half hours) and on-the-ground wartime scenes give the movie an epic feeling straight out of 1970s cinema. The film's transportive power aides in making Lee's newest joint something special.
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