In all of Spike Lee's work, even the more commercial works like 'Inside Man', there is always a deep and abiding understanding of history and how it informs our present and presages our future.
'Blackkklansman', his previous movie, insightfully examined the sheer idiocy of white supremacy and those who preach it, and how so much of racism is steep in sheer stupidity than anything else. With 'Da 5 Bloods', the mixture is less of comedy and more of the startling horrors of war.
The movie sees a group of Vietnam War veterans - Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. - return to the country to recover the body of their squad leader, played by Chadwick Boseman, and in the process, unearth a buried treasure of gold bars they died trying to recover. Each of the squad has their own demons, but it's Delroy Lindo who makes up the majority of the dramatic heart of the movie, and his relationship with his son, played by Jonathan Majors.
Off the bat, the premise of the movie feels like it's a kind of B-movie action adventure, sort of like 'Kelly's Heroes' for the Vietnam War generation. However, Spike Lee's rewrite of the script with Kevin Wilmott shifts it away from any kind of genre thrills and instead gives it a fresh perspective and one that's devoid of any kind of exploitation or minimisation.
Like so much of Spike Lee's work, there is an earnest attempt to educate the audience on the topic. The movie frequently cuts to still imagery and text interludes in the middle of scenes, but it never interrupts the flow of a scene and often complements them rather than hindering them. Likewise, the score by Terence Blanchard and the musical moments featuring Marvin Gaye and other soul artists may not be subtle, but the movie itself is dealing with big emotions and the music rises to meet them.
The performances by the ensemble cast all have a depth and texture to them, but it's really Delroy Lindo as the embittered, disturbed Paul that really drives the story forward and stands out above them all. Fiery and vital, Lindo gives his all in every scene and has a conviction to each and every line of dialogue that marks him out as a strong awards favourite.
Likewise, Newton Thomas Siegel's cinematography is sure to pick up some kind of award, blending together the grainy footage of the Vietnam War flashbacks and the here and now of the situation. Tellingly, Lee chose not to use de-aging technology ala 'The Irishman' on the cast when it flashes back to the Vietnam War. This is an excellent choice, because not only does the technology become distracting, it also speaks to how they view their leader in his prime - whereas they are painfully aware of their years and shortcomings.
Although it does somewhat overstep the mark on some points and has some issues with pacing and length, 'Da 5 Bloods' is an evocative, striking historical drama that earnestly attempts to confront the demons of war and the legacies they leave behind.