By John H. Foote
It could indeed.
Spike Lee’s fine film about a group of African American Vietnam veterans returning to the site of their greatest tragedies 40 to 50 years later is a powering study of how the war never left those who fought it. The film marks the first time the treatment of black soldiers has really been explored, openly discussed in a major film.
There are elements of John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) in the film, as the men search for the bars of precious gold they hid so long ago, in addition to the body of their beloved leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), seen in flashback scenes, and as a ghost present day. One choice, displaying great courage from Lee, was to show the veterans as they are present day in all the flashbacks, no younger lookalikes or de-aging as in The Irishman (2019), a brave, brilliant choice from Lee.
Delroy Lindo has emerged as the front runner for Best Actor as Paul, the tormented warrior, his ghostly encounter with Norman, astonishing, enough to land him at least a nomination. Truth be told, any one of the actors could be nominated and it would be just, it is that well acted a film. The film captures the anguish of memories that cannot be erased, Vietnam haunts the landscape of their dreams each night, and none of them can escape the fierce grip the war has on them. In returning, they find the war still rages.
Beautifully shot amidst the lush green of the jungle, the landscape the men recall has forever been altered as mudslides, torrential monsoons, foliage gone wild, and nature has worked like age on humans. As growing old cuts deep valleys of wrinkles into faces, so has nature upended the areas the men had seared into their minds. And the terrible secrets that jungle holds to a war we come to understand is never truly over for the men who fought it.
Spike Lee has often been very outspoken in the past about the exploration of blacks at war, rarely shown. His film Miracle at St. Anna (2006) attempted to right that wrong, failing miserably, but with Da Five Bloods he is triumphant. After decades of being ignored by the Academy for masterpieces such as Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcom X (1992), and When the Levees Broke (2006), Lee was finally nominated for Best Director for BlacKkKlansman (2018), winning an Oscar for his screenplay to the film. Count on seeing him at the awards as a nominee again this year, and he might just have directed the year’s best film.
Da Five Bloods is a towering achievement for Lee and Netflix.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.