Review: Passion runs deep in Spike Lee's 'Da 5 Bloods'

Four friends return to Vietnam in director's fiery war tale

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods" is a lot of things: It's a get-the-gang-back-together tale of male friendship, it's a treasure hunt, it's a violent action picture, a simmering drama, a study of the lingering after-effects of war, a tribute to the soul and wisdom of Marvin Gaye and a meditation on America's forgotten and too often overlooked black soldiers. 

Above all, it's a stunning showcase for Delroy Lindo, a powerful actor who for years has been cast in forgettable authority roles. Here, Lee gives the powerful actor his biggest, best role in more than two decades and Lindo swallows it whole. He walks away with the movie and the 67-year-old casts a new light on himself, and he's born again in this ambitious and sometimes cluttered return-to-Vietnam tale. 

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo and Jonathan Majors in "Da 5 Bloods."

Lindo is Paul, one of four friends and Vietnam vets who return to the country to settle unfinished business; Eddie (Norm Lewis), Otis (Clarke Peters) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) round out the troop. They're there to find the remains of the fifth member of their group, "Stormin'" Norman (played in flashback by Chadwick Boseman), and to dig up some buried treasure they left behind some 50 years ago.

The ghosts of war still haunt them, especially Paul, who now proudly wears a red MAGA cap as a symbol of defiance and to trigger his old buddies. And Spike Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with three others, is out to trigger viewers as well, playing fast and loose with the time structure of the film (the current actors play their former selves in the war flashback scenes) and shifting tones from quiet drama to Tarantino-style ultraviolence. 

It's often messy (and at two and a half hours, overlong) but it's fiery and passionate, and Lindo turns in a monstrous performance as its conflicted moral center. Lee, meanwhile, ties his tale to the Black Lives Matter movement, giving it a hot button urgency that couldn't be any more timely.

Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" acts as the film's soundtrack, the poignancy of his words finding a new relevancy in the context of today. Like "What's Going On," "Da 5 Bloods" bleeds American.


'Da 5 Bloods'


Rated R: for strong violence, grisly images and pervasive language

Running time: 154 minutes

On Netflix