Watching a Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) joint is like watching jazz on screen. He has a style and rhythm to his work that is always evolving, but always identifiable. Da 5 Bloods, for all its interesting moments and ideas (and trademark politics) seems to be missing a beat or flow. The elements are there, but the music is absent.
There are many good performances holding together the story. But, primarily, it swirls around Delroy Lindo (LX 2048) and Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country), as his son. Lindo’s struggle with PTSD and his past is the engine that drives all the events, while Majors serves as catalyst and potential redemption.
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was Lee’s choice to use the older actors as their younger selves in the flashbacks, rather than casting age-appropriate performers. It really drives home how war lives with soldiers their entire lives. One of the creepiest aspects is watching Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and his storyline in the movie. It was one of his last and still before anyone knew he was ill.
Almost every major director of the last century has taken on a war movie. It’s a platform for commentary and a challenge as an artist to do well. Lee, for all his talent, isn’t a stranger to fighting and conflict on screen, and he certainly had fun mirroring many great films that have come before. Some of that is visual, but just as often with sound and score.
And, speaking of, this film had one of the most distracting film scores I’ve heard in a long time. The fact that I “heard” the score so loud and clear for the first third of the film is part of the problem. It was horribly distracting and not as well used as it was after that first act of the story.
Overall, Da 5 Bloods is a mixed bag of value. The main story is a McGuffin for the intent. That becomes relatively clear early on. But the film is also under-edited, creating a jarring experience that makes absorbing the real points harder to do. It feels like Lee was rushed on delivery rather than applying his typical, detailed care to all elements. It’s still worth seeing for the performances and the messages, but it isn’t exactly a fun ride despite some humor along the way.