Spoilers want in on the gold too.
I don’t mind a movie with political commentary as long as it has what I want: an interesting plot, three-dimensional characters, great performances and excellent cinematography. However, some of those things are subjective. The plot can be derivative, but you win me with the storytelling. Character-development is often reserved to only some characters, but they’re the most intriguing ones. There’s a little of everything in this film and it might just be entertaining.
Da 5 Bloods (2020) was directed by Spike Lee. The script was originally written by by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo and later reworked on by Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott. The story follows four war veterans as they go back to Vietnam to recover the remains of their squad leader and a secret treasure in the form of gold bars they had found in a fallen CIA plane. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) remember their comrade Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) fondly. The search party is completed by an uninvited guest, Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors).
The movie switches between modern day and war time using framing for great effect. 4:3 scenes depict the past while the present is shown in widescreen. The 60s scenes were also filmed in 16mm while the modern scenes are digital. The cast plays themselves in both timelines, with only slightly changes in appearance. No de-aging technology and only a few makeup touches do help to give the illusion of both past and present being connected.
Delroy Lindo is the standout performance here as the abrasive, loud and sometimes hostile Paul – who is also the most developed and interesting character of the bunch. To add insult to injury, Paul is quick to reveal he voted for Trump for president and wears a MAGA hat. His relationship with his son David is strained to the point of breaking. Otis also has some drama waiting for him, as he reconnects with his old Vietnamese flame Tiên (Lê Y Lan). She will be the one to help them get the gold across the border through French businessman Delroche (Jean Reno).
There’s some additional ancillary characters, but I’m going to stop here because the movie already carries a lot of luggage. Paul is interesting to watch, he’s one of the few characters that is fully developed. He has PTSD which causes him to talk to Stormin’ Norman and even see him at times. He has a problem trusting people and being approached by people outside his comfort zone, so he’s quick to lash out. He’s flawed human being, but he feels more tangible and solid than the rest of the cast.
That brings us to my first negative point, a lot of the backstory for the rest of the cast is rather shallow. Plot points and twists are often derivative. When Otis has something to do, I already knew there was going to be a vietnamese woman on his past and that she was going to reveal they had a child. Also, the moment that the conversation about the grenade took place and Melvin stated he’d never go out like that I knew exactly that was going to happen – that’s literally his entire arc. Since he’s played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr. he also says his catchphrase from The Wire at some point (sheeee-it!).
David does have sort of a semi-romance with a French girl named Hedy (Mélanie Thierry) that is really just corny as hell, but both characters felt really dull to start with. Hedy is part of this group that disposes of landmines called LAMB. There’s a moment in which the group runs into a landmine field and after someone gets killed, David ends up stepping on one. You would think that’s the reason the movie introduced this group, and they appear right on the spot. However, they have nothing they can do and it’s up to Paul to remember how they once solved this problem. All fine and good, but then why put this people in the film at all? The first death, which comes when nobody expects it, is horrific.
The main cast could have used some more time for character development by cutting some unnecessary characters, introductions, interactions and even some plot points. The whole aspect of the gold bars added an element of adventure but it also felt a bit too mercenary. Yes, the gold is put to good use in the end with some good causes receiving benefits. The origin of the gold was glossed over and the deaths were covered up for a happy finale. Also, I wasn’t too keen on the late action scenes, they felt a little tacked on from a different film.
Recommended with mixed reservations. Great performances by Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman. Some cringy short interactions with ancillary characters felt downright cheesy. The movie does try to be too many things specially at the end, and for that some plot twists are just too shallow and predictable with a huge tonal shift problem. It does retain some entertainment value and I think cutting away ancillary characters and the last act action scenes would have solidify the movie with a serious ending. With people having died and downright theft/contraband being covered up, it does feel like the movie ends up sending mixed signals. It’s a feature film that can be entertaining to watch as long as you can deal with some varying tonal shifts from intense to lukewarm and a happy ending that feels forced.
That will do for now.