“After you’ve been in a war, you realize it never really ends. Whether it’s in your mind or reality, it’s just degrees.”
As a fan of wartime movies all of my life, I’ve come to expect complicated character studies paired with the overall theme in a variety of formats. Some superficially scratched the surface of these characters’ lives, others went terribly off the deep end with their emotions. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods aims for the latter, but gets bogged down by his own personal bias.
Bloods features a group Vietnam vets who reunite to gather the remains of a fallen soldier, in order to give him a proper military burial at home. But in reality, that’s their cover story, as only they know where a treasure chest full of gold bars was buried many years ago, originating from a downed C-47 airplane that the CIA had intended to pay off the locals for their efforts during the military conflict. The missing treasure might as well be a McGuffin, as the self-aware characters are fighting among brothers, fighting an entire country and fighting the demons of their past. At its core, Da 5 Bloods explores the fragile human condition while recovering from war via PTSD, panic attacks and nightmares… And that primary focus is Delroy Lindo’s character.
Paul is mentally unstable, riddled with guilt and pain from the atrocities he has experienced, all done in the name of Uncle Sam. He’s seeing ghosts, speaking to ghosts, haunted by his past. He’s a certain kind of crazy in this role, which showcases the man talking to himself, the camera and the audience via multiple soliloquies. After serving three tours in the U.S. Army, when his character declares, “Life is a bitch,” it’s quite believable. If war is undeniably a horror, Paul is a prime example of it.
“You’ve been acting more crazy than usual.”
The fallen hero of this tale is Stormin’ Norman Earl Holloway, as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in one of his final roles. This one pales in comparison to his contributions in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but as the fallen squad leader, he’s the emotional core of this crew. His character preaches solidarity, even though each soldier thinks and acts quite individually. Bloods has an unlikely underlying story of unity, about working together with others who you may not share too much in common with, whether it’s governmental reasons, personal reasons or political reasons. That’s a great theme, but unexpected from a filmmaker who so loudly espouses political hatred of others who disagree with him.
Identity politics, race and social justice are just a few of the topics the filmmaker regularly employs in his movies. It’s also a major reason why I’ve been turned off from watching his films, as the drum he incessantly bangs gets louder and louder with each release and this gets very old after a while. There may be a segmented audience for that, but it’s definitely not something appealing to the masses.
Here, Delroy Lindo has some touching moments sprinkled among his craziness and he definitely deserves all of the accolades that seem to be headed his way. I first took note of Lindo in 1995’s Get Shorty. His misled gangster with a heart of gold connected with me as much back then, in his brief role, as his emotionally scattered soldier, here. Mental health stability is definitely no joke. It’s yet another monster that we all deal with on a daily basis. His character is loud, proud and wrong about many things, but he’s also incredibly complicated. Losing a brother from a battle you never believed in will cause that to happen and his performance is the highlight of this film.
The Music City Film Critics’ Association nominated the movie for a variety of categories this year, which was highlighted in a recent advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter. I proudly present said ad. If you’re looking for a great acting performance and you can overlook every single one of the political aspects, make sure to check out Da 5 Bloods.