|Da 5 Bloods|
Promotional release poster
|Directed by||Spike Lee|
|Music by||Terence Blanchard|
|Cinematography||Newton Thomas Sigel|
|Edited by||Adam Gough|
Da 5 Bloods is a 2020 American war drama film directed by Spike Lee, who also produced alongside Jon Kilik, Beatriz Levin, and Lloyd Levin. It stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Johnny Trí Nguyễn, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, and Chadwick Boseman. The film's plot follows a group of aging Vietnam War veterans who return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader, as well as the treasure they buried while serving there.
Originally written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo in 2013, the script was re-worked by Lee and Kevin Willmott following the pair's BlacKkKlansman (2018). The cast joined in February 2019 and filming began a month later, lasting through June and taking place in Southeast Asia. With a production budget of $35–45 million, it is among Lee's most expensive films.
During the Vietnam War, a squad of Black US Army soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, Paul, Otis, Eddie, Melvin and their squad leader Norman, who dub themselves the "Bloods," secure the site of a CIA airplane crash and recover its cargo, a locker of gold bars intended as payment for the Lahu people for their help in fighting the Viet Cong. The Bloods decide to take the gold for themselves and bury it so they can retrieve it later. However, in the ensuing Vietnamese counter-attack, Norman is killed and the Bloods cannot locate the buried gold after a napalm strike obliterates all of the identifying landmarks.
In the present day, Paul, Otis, Eddie and Melvin meet up in Ho Chi Minh City. A recent landslide had uncovered the tail of the crashed plane, and with this new information they plan to find the gold and Norman's body. Otis reunites with his old Vietnamese girlfriend Tiên, who reveals that he is the father of her grown child. Tiên introduces the Bloods to Desroche, a French businessman who agrees to help the Bloods smuggle the gold out of Vietnam once they retrieve it. Soon thereafter, Paul's son David joins the mission.
Vinh, a tour guide hired by the Bloods, leads the group out into the countryside, where a confrontation with a local merchant forces Paul to admit that he has post-traumatic stress disorder. At a hotel bar, David meets Hedy, the founder of LAMB, an organization dedicated to clearing landmines. The next day, Vinh drops off the group and tells them he will pick them up in a few days. During their first night, Paul confiscates a pistol Otis had been secretly given by Tiên and becomes suspicious of his motives. Eventually, the Bloods find the gold bars scattered across the side of a hill. They also find Norman's remains and pray over them. Eddie reveals that his excessive spending has rendered him broke, but reminds the Bloods of Norman's original plan to give the gold to their black brethren in the United States.
On the hike out, Eddie steps on a landmine and is killed. In the chaos, David also steps on a mine but does not trigger it, just as Hedy and two other volunteers from LAMB, Simon and Seppo, show up. Paul and the others manage to pull David off the landmine safely. Paul then holds the three outsiders hostage with Otis's gun, paranoid that they will report them to the authorities. During the night Seppo escapes while David and the others forcibly take the gun from Paul.
When the Bloods meet Vinh at the agreed rendezvous spot, a group of gunmen show up demanding the gold in exchange for Seppo, whom they have captured. A shootout results in David being shot in the leg and Seppo being killed by a landmine while trying to escape. The gunmen flee. Assuming that Desroche has crossed them, Vinh suggests retreating to a nearby abandoned temple to defend themselves from reinforcements. Unwilling to trust Vinh, Paul takes his share of the gold and heads out into the jungle alone. The remaining Bloods offer Vinh, Hedy and Simon a share of the remaining gold for their trouble.
As he rages to himself, Paul has a vision of Norman who reminds him that he was the one who had killed him, having shot him by accident during the firefight, and that he should let go of his guilt. Desroche's men find Paul and kill him. At the temple, Desroche and the gunmen arrive. After confronting the Frenchman, now wearing Paul's MAGA hat, Otis, Melvin and Vinh start shooting, killing all of Desroche's men. Desroche wounds Otis and tries to finish him off with a hand grenade, but Melvin sacrifices himself by leaping on top of it. Desroche prepares to execute Otis, but David shoots and kills him with Otis's gun.
Vinh helps the surviving Bloods share out the gold. Melvin's widow receives his share, and Eddie's goes to a Black Lives Matter organization. Hedy and Simon donate their shares to LAMB in Seppo's name. Norman's remains are brought home to his family by the military. David reads a letter from Paul, who tells him that he will always love him. Otis visits Tiên and bonds with his daughter for the first time.
The film was originally a 2013 spec script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo titled The Last Tour, with Mike Bundlie and Barry Levine Executive Producing and with Oliver Stone set to direct. After Stone dropped out in 2016, Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott performed a re-write after completing BlacKkKlansman (2018), changing it to an African-American perspective. Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Don Cheadle and John David Washington were eyed for the lead roles, but all passed due to scheduling conflicts. In February 2019, it was announced that Netflix would distribute the film, with Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, and Jean Reno set to star. Jonathan Majors entered negotiations to join later that month. In March 2019, Paul Walter Hauser, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Mélanie Thierry, and Jasper Pääkkönen joined the cast of the film. Esposito was also confirmed for the cast, although he later dropped out.
Filming began on March 23, 2019. Production lasted three months, mostly shooting in Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai. Unlike other films, including Netflix's The Irishman, Lee had the main cast (most of whom were in their 60s) play the 20-year-old versions of themselves in flashback sequences without the use of de-aging technology or make-up, bar for the final shot of their 20-year-old versions. The 1960s sequences were also shot on 16 mm film, a choice Lee had to convince Netflix to allow him to do, with the modern scenes being shot digitally. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel came up with the idea to shoot the Vietnam sequences using the kind of camera and film stock that would have been available during the era.
The musical score for Da 5 Bloods was written by composer Terence Blanchard. In addition to Blanchard's score, the film features several songs from the early 1970s. Most predominantly, the film contains six songs from Marvin Gaye's 1971 album What's Going On. "That record was released when I was young, but I could feel what was going on in the country," said Blanchard. "When Spike has that music put in a film it becomes extremely powerful for so many reasons." The six main characters share the same first names as the members of The Temptations and their producer Norman Whitfield.
Da 5 Bloods was released on June 12, 2020, by Netflix. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was originally scheduled to premiere out-of-competition at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, then play in theaters in May or June before streaming on Netflix.
Upon release, it was the top-streamed film in its first weekend, before falling to sixth place in its second. At their Q2 report meeting in July 2020, Netflix reported the film had been viewed by 27 million households since its release.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 252 reviews, with an average rating of 7.97/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Fierce energy and ambition course through Da 5 Bloods, coming together to fuel one of Spike Lee's most urgent and impactful films." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 82 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper gave the film four stars out of four, saying: "The picture, the script and director Lee all deserve nomination consideration, as does the lush and booming score by Lee's longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard... Whitlock, Lewis, Peters and Boseman deserve supporting actor conversation, while Delroy Lindo should be an instant contender for best actor." Richard Brody of The New Yorker wrote that the film "runs two hours and thirty-four minutes, but it's not a second too long. On the contrary, it feels compressed, bustling, and frenzied with its intellectual and dramatic energy." David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called the film "as timely as today's news," writing: "Lee deftly steers it all full circle in a series of brief wrap-up scenes that are both fancifully tidy and deadly serious, acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that allows this sprawling, unwieldy, frequently brilliant film to close on a profoundly affecting note of hope and catharsis. Structural flaws notwithstanding, this movie is a gift right now, and there's no other director that could have made it."
Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a grade of "B" and wrote: "A loose, caustic look at the Vietnam war through the prism of black experiences while providing some excellent performances, Da 5 Bloods wrestles with the specter of the past through the lens of a very confusing present, and settles into a fascinated jumble as messy and complicated as the world surrounding its release." Writing for Variety, Peter Debruge called the film "ambitious but uneven" and said that "Lee interweaves potent social critique with escapist B-movie thrills as four veterans return to 'Nam to claim the loot they were ordered to retrieve decades earlier, but stashed for themselves instead. The result is overlong and erratic, but also frequently surprising... coupled with an unforgettable performance by Delroy Lindo at it's heart" Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post gave the film three out of four stars, writing that "its moments of stinging insight and soaring cinematic rhetoric once again prove why Spike Lee might be America's most indispensable filmmaker. "
Critic Mark Kermode called the film "a mixed bag". Writing for The Guardian, he gave the film three out of five stars, praising its political and comedic aspects, as well as Lindo's performance. But he wrote negatively of its "tonal shifts", noting that "warring elements of Da 5 Bloods appear bolted together". Chuck Bowen of Slant Magazine gave the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, concluding: "At its best, Da 5 Bloods offers a damning, rather tedious, hallucinatory collage of images and ideas concerning the relationship between racism and warfare, coupled with some fierce action sequences."
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