(US - 2020)
Directed by Spike Lee. Written by Danny Bilson, Paul DeMeo, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee. Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Chadwick Boseman, Jean Reno, Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Le Y Lan, Nguyen Ngoc Lam, Sandy Huong Pham, Van Veronica Ngo. (R, 155 mins)
His 2018 film BLACKkKLANSMAN reflected a still-open wound with its release timed to the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville tragedy, but DA 5 BLOODS finds Spike Lee making a film boiling with such rage over systemic racism that it could've been shot in the last two weeks. Of course, that systemic racism is there and always has been, but no film in recent memory has felt more "of the moment" than this, a sprawling and ambitious epic that does, on a few occasions, get too uneven and too unwieldy for its good. Lee and BLACKkKLANSMAN co-writer Kevin Willmott extensively reworked an existing script called THE LAST TOUR, written in 2013 by the team of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who got their start in the '80s writing cult sci-fi B movies like TRANCERS and ELIMINATORS for Charles Band's Empire Pictures. They soon moved up to THE ROCKETEER for Disney and into TV with the CBS series THE FLASH (DA 5 BLOODS also marks the final writing credit for DeMeo, who died in 2018 and gets a special acknowledgement in the end credits). Bilson and DeMeo have always had an affinity for men-on-a-mission wartime scenarios, from 1986's ZONE TROOPERS all the way to 2013's DTV video-game spinoff THE COMPANY OF HEROES and it's their LAST TOUR script that provides the foundation for DA 5 BLOODS, as four aging vets go back to Vietnam of the present day, ostensibly to retrieve the remains of their fallen friend, but with a second, off-the-record reason: to retrieve a chest of CIA gold they retrieved from a plane crash in 1971 and buried.
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA, but DA 5 BLOODS tracks the fury of '60s activism (clips of Malcolm X, MLK, Kwame Ture) all the way through to the advent of Black Lives Matter and the Age of Trump, whose presence is felt here even beyond being referred to as "President Fake Bone Spurs." The four vets are Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr), Eddie (Norm Lewis), and Paul (Delroy Lindo), and though an ensemble piece for the most part, it's Paul who becomes the emotional center of the film. Still suffering from PTSD, short-tempered, paranoid, and with an ever-present chip on his shoulder and looking for confrontation everywhere, staunch conservative Paul is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off even before he starts parroting Trump talking points about immigrants, fake news, and "building the wall," plus other derogatory terms for the Vietnamese people. All of the men are haunted by the death of their unit leader and friend "Stormin' Norman" (Chadwick Boseman in flashbacks), killed in action back in 1971 just after they retrieved and buried the gold, but Paul has been unable to move on. That extends to his fractured relationship with his son David (Jonathan Majors), a liberal Black Studies instructor at Morehouse who's earned nothing but scornful derision from his father ("You've been an anchor around my neck since the day you were born"). Though there's no affection between them, David shows up at their Saigon hotel unexpectedly out of concern for his dad and insists on tagging along, telling him "You've been acting more crazy than usual."
DEAD PRESIDENTS and the virtually forgotten THE WALKING DEAD.