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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 31, 2021



MOVIES about the Vietnam War is a genre in itself, from serious dramas like “Platoon”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Born on the 4th of July” and “Apocalypse Now” to action films like “Rambo, First Blood”, “The Green Beret”, “Hamburger Hill” and more. 

Now comes “Da 5 Bloods” from black auteur Spike Lee who starts with a treasure hunt story then turns it into an African-American experience in the Vietnam War. 

Four aging black veterans meet up in Ho Chi Min City. They are Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock) and Otis (Clark Peters.) 

They call themselves Da Bloods, along with their squad leader, Stormin’ Norman (played by the late Chadwick Boseman in one of his last movies before he passed.)  

The movie is set long after the war is over, but there are flashback scenes to show it and the actors in the scenes from the past are played by the same old actors in the present, without any attempt to make them look younger, making Chadwick obviously looking much younger than any of them.

The five of them locate a plane that crashed in the jungle and secured its cargo: a huge crate containing gold bars. They bury it for themselves, to be retrieved later. 

But the Vietcong attack them and Norman is killed. A napalm strike destroys the identifying landmarks on the site where they buried the gold then. 

Recent developments showed that a landslide has uncovered parts of the cargo plane, so they return to Vietnam to get the gold and also find the remains of Norman, so they can bring it back home to America. 

Popping up to join them is David (Jonathan Majors), Paul’s son, who’s not exactly in the best of terms with his dad who’s suffering from post traumatic stress disorder but is in denial. 

It will be revealed much later that the source of this is his guilt feelings over something that happened in Vietnam.

After a long hike and spending the night in the forest, Da Bloods quickly find not only the gold bars but also the remains of their fallen comrade. The film runs for two hours and half and this is just the middle of the film, so you know the movie won’t end there. 

Spike Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay, has ambitious motives but often loses his focus and the end result feels “sabog”, scatterbrained, and not very well strung together. 

It’s trying to tackle so many issues all at once, specially political rhetorics to make it a social critique about the exploitation of black soldiers. 

We see footage of various icons of black empowerment like Muhamad Ali, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis and Malcolm X talking about racism resurrected from the archives, then connecting it with more recent Black Lives Matter protests.

There’s a subplot concerning a rich French girl who volunteers in dismantling land mines that serves as some sort of love interest for David. There’s a gang of Vietnamese thugs who want to steal the gold as some kind of reparation for what the Americans did to them. 

There’s also a double-dealing Frenchman (Jean Reno) who wants to get the gold for himself. And it turns out Otis has sired a daughter with his former Vietnamese girlfriend, Tien (Le Y Lan.) 

Add to this the personal conflict among Da Bloods themselves, who at first talk about justice, then their supposed brotherhood starts to crack and it all boils down to personal greed, making them quite unsympathetic. This echoes the classic John Huston film “The Treasure of Sierra Madre”.

The movie is unnecessarily protracted, its tone so unbalanced, so uneven, and the whole of it quite messy and badly cooked. 

There’s even a sequence devoted to Hanoi Hannah, whose propaganda broadcasts over the airwaves aimed to discourage U.S. soldiers fighting in Vietnam. 

With its bloated running time, the movie certainly needs a good editor to make it more compact, less tedious and more coherent. We don't know why this is touted to be an Oscar contender when it's so overrated.