Spike Lee's oeuvre has never been known for its ascetic sensibilities or subtle thematic intentions and with his latest opus, Da 5 Bloods, he has crafted a dense, messy film which pullulates with ideas centered around the black experience in America from the past to present. Pulsating with purpose despite its narrative and thematic faults, Da 5 Bloods walks.a fine-line between overindulgence and boisterous, essential expression as Spike draws from a rich assortment of non-fiction and fictional influences (The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Steel Helmet, etc) to craft an all encompassing exploration that centers the African American experience in the old-Hollywood archetype. In many ways, it is a film that is difficult not to appreciate due to the vitriol and vitality it consistently elicits. One thing that jumps out right from the onset of Da 5 Bloods is the celebratory nature of blackness. In the opening sequences it struck me just how rare it is to see five black men in mainstream Hollywood cinema presented in a solely celebratory fashion - the long take on the dance floor employed by Lee places this notion firmly in the spotlight, a reprieve in some respects from what is going to transpire as the narrative progresses and Lee continues to excavate the underlying pain felt by these men. While personally, I wish the film would have more just focused on the first half exploration of brotherhood and blackness centered around the neglect and suppression of the African American experience in Vietnam (and beyond), Lee's film continuously quarries social, cultural, and political discursive strategies in its subtext which doesn't always align with its narrative text, leading to what feels like a lack of focus in some respects, though one could certainly argue it's a display that is necessary given the complexities of racism and the vastness of the condemnation of Blackness in America. The second half of the film divulges to much from its first half for my liking, featuring an action-filled extravaganza which seems primarily aimed at commentary related to greed. French, American, and Vietnamese components make up the film's characters, some seeking forgiveness, some revenge, others wealth - a clever and pointed construction symbolic of the historical record of Indochina. I'd be remissed if I didn't mention that the Netflix sheen is unfortunately very much a part of this film - While Lee's stylistic decisions are sharp, the film's digital aesthetic, digital muzzle flashes and blood squibs lack a certain authenticity, and it took me out of the movie several times. The performances are perhaps my favorite aspect of the film - Delroy Lindo continues to do excellent work and I'm hopeful this will be the film that finally grants him the accolades he has long deserved. Lee seems to wholly recognize this as well, giving him a rich characterization and at times seemingly just getting out of the way of Lindo's maelstrom performance, using his direction to enhance and amplify. In the end, I don't personally think Da 5 Bloods works holistically yet there is something about the film's fervor that his hard to deny. Vietnam films from this perspective are hard to find in cinema, being nearly nonexistent in mainstream Hollywood cinema, and Lee uses his frantic epic to vividly depict the African American experience in Vietnam, one which has added layers of pain given the lack of acceptance and assurance provided to Black veterans in this unjust war
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