MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Spike Lee has been making films for 35 years and his body of work includes documentaries, filmed plays, and movies of many genres including musicals, biopics, war films, crime fiction, satire, and romantic comedy. But he has never given up his passion to educate his audience about the history of Black America, including its joys and struggles.
Lee does not hesitate to preach to his audience, using whatever means necessary. Da 5 Bloods opens with the voice of protest from Muhammed Ali and his opposition to serving with the military in Vietnam. This clip begins a history lesson about the war and the ways in which it divided our nation and sent young recruits to kill and die in combat.
Da 5 Bloods are five men who served together in Army’s First Infantry (The Big Red One) in Vietnam and saw one of them – “Stormin’ Norman” (Chadwick Boseman) - die in combat. At the beginning of the film they gather together in Ho Chi Minh City to retrace their steps to the place where Norman died. While they hope to find the bones of their fallen friend, they also plan to recover gold bars that they pilfered and buried prior to the fire fight. The group includes Paul (Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and will later also include Paul’s son David (Majors). The boldest member of the group is Paul, who wears a MAGA hat and is unapologetic about his political alliances. All of the soldiers struggle with PTSD, visibly shown during an encounter with firecrackers.
An early moment in the film depicts the men dancing in a club; we can see the joy that is part of their reunion. They have hired Vinh (Johnny Tri Nguyen), a reliable native guide, but later decide to hike into the jungle without him. They also meet up with a group of workers who are in the business of clearing out the thousands of land mines left buried after the conflict. Land mines are never a good thing.
I have skipped over a few of the many subplots in Da 5 Bloods, but if you are at all familiar with the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre or 1979’s Apocalypse Now, you many enjoy the ways in which Spike Lee juggles both of their storylines into this movie.
In many ways Da 5 Bloods is a mess. Flashback scenes have the older actors playing their younger selves, the shifts in tone don’t always work, and sometimes the preaching is a bit heavy-handed. Terence Blanchard’s score often sounds like someone just left a loud radio playing in the background. But the film has life and vitality. In spite of its silliness, the film’s important messages about the folly of war and the lessons about race this country has yet to learn lingered in my mind long after viewing this 2½ hour Trojan Horse of a movie. This is a troubling film that comes to us in troubling times.
The soldiers in Da 5 Bloods have carried the pain of war with them for 50 years; our nation has carried the burden of slavery and racial inequality for four centuries. Spike Lee is going to keep making movies about tough issues until folks wake up and do the right thing.
That’s us, church.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A passionate demand for racial reparations is at the heart of this sprawling action film.
Three pitchforks: Extreme violence shown, including documentary footage; strong profanity and pervasive swearing; some crude sexual remarks.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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