da 5 bloods [film review]

I was most excited to see the new Spike Lee’s film, Da 5 Bloods, available on Netflix. As I had liked very much his much earlier films like She’s gotta have it, Do the right thing or Clockers. (Although I feel the original book had more impact, I felt.) But I was rather disappointed by this one. (Although I related with the few pictures taken at the War Remnants Museum in Ho-Chi-Minh City, which I visited in 2013!) As I felt it was wasting most of the story for the allegory… The heist story was implausible from start to end (which is admittedly an usual feature of heist stories), with the five guys going into the Vietnamese jungle on their own, 50 years later!, which makes them 70 years old at the very least, with a small back-pack each but enough to carry a complete metal detector, and finding gold and bones (not a true spoiler I think!), not worrying about mines (until it is too late). Some of the actors are terrific, especially the (PTSD) out-of-control Delroy Lindo who essentially carries the film and keeps it alive. But other characters remain dreadfully under-exploited, counter-productively for the story. Which (literally) implodes with too many divergent threads. All unraveling into botched conclusions and ending up into a mess of the movie, the message eventually shooting the messenger…

On top of this I also think the film is presenting a very one-dimensional view of Vietnam, from a postcard idyllic vision with buffaloes in rice paddies, to thugs working for a French crook. With the overused tropes of the faithful prostitute and the cigarette smoking femme fatale. Except the later is a propaganda speaker on the Vietcong radio and unlikely to smoke American cigarettes… And the 1950’s (pre-Điện Biên Phủ) attitude of the said French crook (including the “bad guy” Luger gun!) does not fit either. Of course, these anachronisms and clichés could be understood as a second degré choice, i.e. as a pastiche of earlier American Vietnam war movies, from Apocalypse Now (explicitly referenced at the beginning of the movie, copter, river boat trip and Khmer temple included) to The Deer Hunter (especially the Vietnamese xenophobia), to Rambo (with cartoonesque shooting scenes). Collating epoch newsreels with blurry and dreamlike recalls of the actual experience of the 4 veterans looking their present age is a stylistic choice, obviously, but its repetition does not help in creating structure or credence in the movie. Especially when the current day battles in the movie are not any further realistic, although intended to be so…

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