Classic movies like “Apocalypse Now,” “Platoon” and “Full Metal Jacket” have shown the horrors of the Vietnam War. And yet, these classic stories have always been told from a White soldier’s perspective. Despite the fact that Black soldiers were put in combat positions at a higher rate than White soldiers, they seem to lack the same representation in recounts of the bloody battles of the Vietnam War.
Spike Lee’s new Netflix-produced movie “Da 5 Bloods” follows the story of four Black Vietnam War veterans and unpacks the complicated relationship between being Black and being a soldier.
The movie takes place in modern-day Vietnam where four life-long friends and veterans who call their gang the “Bloods” are on a quest to retrieve the body of their fallen friend and captain, “Stormin’ Norman” (Chadwick Boseman), as well as the millions of dollars of gold that was buried with him. After personalities clash, the once strong and bold Bloods start to fall apart at the seams in the deep jungles of Vietnam.
Though the film may have a plot reminiscent of “The Goonies,” it is a lot more than a hidden treasure movie. While revisiting the land where they had to witness, and sometimes commit, extreme atrocities, they are confronted with all of the war trauma they subconsciously still carry.
Though all of the men bond over the constant nightmares and flashbacks of the war, it becomes evident that one of the Bloods, Paul (Delroy Lindo), has the worst case of PTSD amongst them. His actions and consciousness are constantly affected by the image and memory of Norman, along with an extreme case of survivor’s guilt. Paul’s son (Jonathan Majors), who eventually comes along for the journey, has been affected deeply by his father’s untreated mental illness and their relationship is incredibly strained as a result.
There are flashbacks of the Bloods fighting along with their fallen friend peppered throughout the movie. In these scenes, the four men are not played by younger actors, but as their 70-year-old selves, while Norman is the same age as when he died.
The choice to not use younger actors or de-age the men works very well. It shows how even though they were able to physically leave the war and the battlefields, their spirit is still there and may always be there.
However, Lee said in a recent New York Times profile that this was not his first choice. The budget for the film did not allow for the 100 million dollars that would be necessary for de-aging technology that was used in another Netflix-produced film, “The Irishman.”
The negative impacts of the war not only torment these men and their families, but also the land and people of Vietnam. There are still landmines, there are still children that are born with deformities due to the toxic chemical Agent Orange and the locals continue to face trauma from the violence and death that came out of the war.
The Bloods are still dealing with the questionable morality of the war and are working through how to move on from all of the unnecessary destruction they caused.
“We fought in an immoral war that wasn’t ours, for rights that we didn’t have,” Paul said.
The movie further works through the moral questions with stylized segments of activists like Angela Davis and Stokely Carmicheal giving anti-war speeches arguing that the war was unnecessary and disproportionately affected Black people.
Lee emphasizes this latter point, that being Black and being a soldier were two conflicting identities, throughout the film. This discussion adds a very important layer to the narrative because the stories of Black soldiers are often overlooked or equated to the experience of White soldiers.
Though they were all fighting the same war, Black soldiers had the added obstacle of having to put their lives on the line for a country that saw them as lesser, while also not being able to fight for their civil rights back home.
This film is full of Lee’s staple stylizations including harsh cuts not only to speeches, but also to images and videos that illustrate the horror of the war, such as the Kent State Massacre and the “Napalm Girl” photo. These force the audience to hear the stories directly from the people affected and actually see what happened.
The movie also acknowledges that it is not a run-of-the-mill White soldier story and parodies “Apocalypse Now,” one of the most acclaimed movies about the war, by constantly referencing it and by using “Ride of the Valkyries,” a song that is synonymous with the film.
Besides the “Apocalypse Now” references, the movie also features several songs from singer Marvin Gaye’s album, “What’s Going On.” Though the album sets the tone for the time period and has strong political messages that blend perfectly with the movie, the songs are present in the scenes no matter what is going on and it can seem inappropriate at times.
This also highlights a major fault in the movie. It constantly switches genres, alternating between drama, comedy, classic war movie, adventure, psychological thriller and romance. This makes scenes feel disorientating or emotionally disconnected because the tone varies so widely.
Despite any of the flaws of the movie, it still makes a powerful statement on war, Blackness and PTSD, as well as current-day political issues. It’s a must-watch for any war movie fan.
Rating: ⅘ stars
Gladi Suero is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.