The fractured center of “Da 5 Bloods”

Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” is film about a neglected subject–the experiences of African Americans in the Viet Nam war. And as such it is a corrective and timely.

Beyond that, the film has a beautiful surface which spans the ink dark of the jungle to the vibrant buzz of Ho Chi Minh City; an unusual film score which integrates Marvin Gaye, R and B, with big orchestral score, and solo laments bordering on New Age. The story, too, has a strong synthesizing impulse: to integrate several genres– the heist genre, the war movie, the documentary, even the tourist postcard. The result is a unusual work, expertly edited I thought, into which Lee has thrown a dozen characters, three related stories, a historic perspective, at least two psychological themes, and a lot of blood and gore and body parts.

Lee goes for excess here, and tries to couple that with the narrow confines of the heist as narrative. In the first half– the better half, actually the first half is riveting–I was seized by awe and deep emotion as the nascent theme began to take shape. In the second half he changes course, expands the story with digressions, and tries to turn the film into something huge, all-encompassing which is meant to assault the senses from all directions in a macabre dance of beauty and extreme violence. Sometimes that assault achieves its intent, at other times it confuses and alienates, so much so that all the emotional buildup of the first half slowly begin to slip away. The first half asks: What did the Viet Nam war mean for the Bloods who fought under the slogan of freedom but were themselves and their ancestors denied such freedom in their home county? The second half returns to this questions only sporadically; it is distracted by other things.

I think this is a movie primarily for younger audiences who are nurtured on big Hollywood productions, and abundance of technological wizardry and lots of sound and fury. But the story is a throwback to “our time,” the sixties and the early seventies. I am curious what younger viewers will think of it because Lee seems to have an educational and moral intent in mind, which is the only way to explain the rather quaint and positive ending. After so much violence and horror, what is the place of love and collective action and charity–virtues on which the film comes to its conclusion and silence.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
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