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Review: Da 5 Bloods – “The most relevant film of 2020”

I have been looking forward to this one for a long time.

I am ashamed to say I was slow to the game with Spike Lee. It took me until my Dad kept telling me how great Summer Of Sam was, to sit bolt upright & pay attention.

A few years later he made the most potent film of its time: 25th Hour. Stripping back 9/11 and how America tried to recover from it. It’s fearless film making. It’s not budged from my Top 25 of All Time, since. Because of how hard it hits me — every time — I don’t think it’ll ever budge.

Two years back BlackKklansman hit hard, too. The last five minutes of which are essential viewing. Especially today.

When the embargo lifted on Da 5 Bloods someone described it as a remix of Triple Frontier. That landed on Netflix last year and remained one of my favourite films of that year. Partly because of the cast. Partly because it’s dark and gritty. J.C Chandor remains one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets, even though he’s now made 3 near faultless films. Brilliantly acted, but perhaps languid in pace.

If that’s the criticism barometer, you can imagine how my expectation levels went up.

In this of all years, I’ve been really vocal about the lack of new films. For once it’s not necessarily Hollywood’s fault, although I still believe they could’ve been far quicker with their reaction to potential VOD “opportunities”.

Yet today, we get a new Spike Lee Joint — if we’ve got Netflix – and we get new Judd Apatow with The King of Staten Island — if we’re willing to spend £14.99/$19.99 to rent something — and accepting after watching, it really will adhere to the iTunes myth of disappearing forever!

I’ll review the new Judd over the weekend, as again, expectations are high. And, as ever, there’s a lot of film for your hard-earned buck.

In terms of Spike, fresh from his Oscar — took a while, didn’t it? — he starts ferociously.

Imagine all of the Vietnam images that are seared into the brain. Some I’d seen as pictures and never full footage. It’s graphic and you’ll wince. Ali. Sadako Sasaki. Later, MLK. Marvin.

I don’t think Spike Lee does anything accidentally and the fact this montage follows on from the end of BlackKklansman in his filmography is no accident.

Put them together and you’ve got a shocking glimpse at Black Lives not mattering very much at all. Especially as Lee intersperses it with clips of soldiers saying how they’d been promised freedom for fighting.

Freedom. Equality.

Da 5 Bloods is the most relevant film of 2020 and in the hands of Lee, you know it will hit hard.

The premise is four ageing ex-GI’s returning to Vietnam to find gold bullion, they buried back in their original tour.

Simple as that.

To set the situation, Lee uses the aspect ratio. The screen shrinks when we (crash)land in ‘Nam and we are introduced to Chadwick Boseman, who’s likely as eager as we are to make his mark outside of Marvel.

As the aspect ratio extends, we spend time with the crew. Clubbing. Eating dinner. It’s 25 minutes in and, aside from a helicopter crash, it’s quite sedate. That won’t be for everyone, but two hours in he does it for a brief PTSD flashback. I thought it was truly effective and not as gimmicky as it sounds.

Lee is in complete control here. He uses the early pacing as an opportunity to show us Delroy Lindo (who I’ve always loved), cut into a Trump rally — allowing a conversation on why he actually voted for him. Clearly relevant today, & allowing Lee to unpick some of the racial tension that

“You ain’t been nothing but an anchor around me since you were born,” hits hard. The imagery clear and the reality that these soldiers have struggled on. Both with PTSD — demonstrated by a young boy making them hit the deck when he throws firecrackers on the floor, and also with day-to-day struggles.

This is explored far more midway through when Lindo breaks down after a “gook” encounter that causes a panic attack. He uses the opportunity to explain how everyone on the boat is either a “nigger” or a “yellow nigger,” and how accepting that will make things easier in the long run.

It’s incendiary stuff and an acting masterclass.

We get a fuller explanation too — keeping a theme of Lee’s, where black on black violence needs to stop as well.

Despite the toughness of what’s being discussed, Lee has fun. Too much at times for my liking. There are too many coincidences and far too many pratfalls at the two-hour mark, but I sobbed my eyes out when forgiveness came.

Some of the touches are fantastic though. “As Aretha said, show a little respect” — cue a single shot of Franklin, Tyler Durden spliced, into a frame. It’s great and will sit nicely in Lee’s filmography.

Then, as we travel by river, Ride Of The Valkyries. Possibly the most famous of all Vietnam imagery bought all the way back.

It feels like another lifetime.

I can’t stop picturing Lee bouncing in a purple suit, screaming: NOT MY CUP OF TEA. It’s such a joyous reaction after he’s asked if he thought Green Book deserved the Oscars. That decision aged well, eh? I’m sure the ageing white men of the Academy thought they were doing the right thing.

It’s an indelible image and Da 5 Bloods won’t be for everyone.

It certainly won’t be for the frail whites that are struggling with what’s going on at the moment. The fact some are dealing better with a Global Pandemic better than the Black Lives Matter process says all you need to know, about how slow the process will be.

Da 5 Bloods is black and proud. Rightly so.

I get the Triple Frontier comparisons but if you didn’t love that, and more didn’t than did, don’t let that put you off.

Double bill it with The Hughes Brothers Dead Presidents instead, as I did, Throw Malcom X in too. Do the right thing and wake-up. We all need too,

It loses its way a bit in the middle, including some high farce which is finally out of place and is curiously long — but I can’t lie…

…I’m starting a Delroy Lindo Oscar campaign.

“Hear me? Hear me? You US Government will not talk me out. I will choose how & when I die. You dig? Right on?”

Right on, Spike.

Now take that MAGA cap off and get me Marvin’s greatest hits on. I need to know what’s going on.

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