moviegainz’s review published on Letterboxd:
While its social timeliness is undoubtedly impactful and its diverse characters keep the viewer engaged; ‘Da 5 Bloods’ overindulgent genre-blending and indecisive style leaves this Spike Lee joint feeling; of all things; disjointed.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ is a war drama film written and directed by Spike Lee -- it follows the story of four army veterans who return to Vietnam in their older age for the remains of a fallen soldier and to recover something lost.
Following Spike Lee’s previous hit ’BlacKkKlansman’ (2018) the stage is set for a heavy and a possibly soul-crushingly lamentful watch. So, we shifted in our seats and prepared for exactly that. Without any recourse, just seconds into the opening we’re greeted with stomach-churning graphic images of war and terror; “here we go!” we thought; the bar is set, we’re in for something transformative. To our surprise, by the time 10 minutes had elapsed we’d all but forgotten about what happened minutes earlier as the tone has shifted entirely 3 times since; and so, this becomes a theme of the movie throughout the near entirety of its runtime - a film with a disorder -- symptoms include temporary amnesia of the scenes preceding each other and what we’d call... tonal spaghetti.
We don’t generally focus on dissecting just issues we had with a film, but in this case, we feel like if we’re going to critique a Spike Lee joint, we may as well do it properly - and if we’re going to make that critique, we may as well explain it thoroughly.
Now, despite such heavy themes and messages being tackled in ‘Da 5 Bloods’, it often feels like it’s in a suspended state of comedy or lightheartedness at all times, such to the point that it murkies how we feel about the messages - similar to how the horror film ‘Midsommar’ (2018) creates a dissociative feeling from the terror due to the amount of comedy injected. Now, while comedy and tragedy can certainly work in tandem; evidenced by recent films like ‘JoJo Rabbit’ (2019) or Manchester by the Sea (2016); there is a way in which it is done that ensures the core terror and tragedy stays intact -- and it all starts with the characters -- most of which, in this film, are ones where we’re not sure if we can take seriously when the film needs to get serious, and not sure whether we can laugh at when the film gets comedic.
Spike lays out two timelines in this film - one set in the past and one set in the present. We often found ourselves more at home in the past rather than the present, as what was happening in the past felt like it juxtaposed today's issues better rather than the present juxtaposed the past. In other words, we would’ve preferred a war film following the young bloods than we did following the old ones.
Spike’s use of visual flavour is also inconsistent here, but not necessarily to a fault. We see him clearly making major distinctions between the past and present through an array of different techniques and technologies. The past is mostly shot in either 8mm (Super8) and 16mm -- both of which are notoriously grainy and low quality film stocks, generally used these days to create an intentional sense of degradation -- modern examples of 16mm being used can be seen in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2012) - with 8mm being rarer, but can be seen in Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ (2002). Spike’s use of aspect ratio switching is very intentional and very fun, when we switch from past (1.33:1) to present (1.85:1, 2.39:1), Spike really points out the change -- other such examples of ratio switching can be seen in Lucy in the Sky (2019) and even more inventive examples can be seen in The Life of Pi (2012). On a color level, there seems to be extremely heavy color-grading on this film, such to the point that the modern scenes look especially oversaturated, this grading works for the past sequences, but has no home in the present. To put things bluntly, Spike makes some hits and misses with his visuals, but the overall result is relatively engaging.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ just doesn’t hit well enough for us to even feel the desire for a revisit, Spike is no doubt quite a seasoned veteran of portraying these kinds of themes, but on occasion, he is known to miss his mark. This is both a disjointed film in terms of tone and style, ultimately leading to a coagulated flow and shifty “feel” to the whole film - which we felt was a shame, as could’ve been a deeper bite into the black legacy of such a brutal and deranged war.