Spike Lee has done it again. This time out, he’s off the streets of Brooklyn, out of the club scene of Manhattan and away from toying with diverse personalities as in “BlacKkKlansman.” And don’t forget his upcoming HBO presentation of David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” which ran on Broadway last year. Those days are over … for a while.

Meanwhile in partnership with Netflix we get to watch, suffer, enjoy and discuss for the next year or two Lee’s long (2 hours and 34 minutes) anti-Vietnam saga — a bloody, talky, and rambling boat ride up the rivers of darkness in Vietnam.
Lee brings along four veterans, four of the Black Americans who made up 32% of those who fought and died in America’s dirtiest and probably illegal war.

Meet Paul (the great Delroy Lindo in his most powerful role ever) as an angry Trump fan with a red MAGA cap and a brain caked with the mud of nightmares; Otis (Clarke Peters); Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis).

They all meet happily in the lobby of the airport in Vietnam. This, the set-up of their mission, and a few other scenes in bars and a restaurant will be the last where we can get our hearts around the group.

To thicken the weight on Paul, his son David (Jonathan Majors), with whom he has always had a troubled relationship, has flown to Vietnam to join them, hoping to keep his father alive.

They’re here to find the remains of Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Norman was not only their platoon leader, but in a series of flashbacks we see that he was their spiritual center who kept them alive through battle after battle. They are also here to find something else.

Back in the bad days they were assigned to find a CIA C-47 transport plane that had been carrying a large payroll for friendly natives who were helping in the war. The plane went down, and with it a metal suitcase carrying a fortune in gold bars. They found the treasure and lost Norman in a firefight, when the VC confronted them. Avarice reared its ugly head when the boys sat staring at the mountain of gold bars. In a silent moment we know the thought and plan that is running from one mind to the other like an electric current.

We’ve been here before, from the 1970 “Kelly’s Heroes” to the 1999 “Three Kings,” where George Clooney and his squad of four American soldiers decided to steal a cache of Saddam Hussein’s hidden gold.

“Da 5 Bloods,” we learn, was filmed in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, as well as Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) in Vietnam. “It was where we needed to be,” Lee said, “this could not be real on some Hollywood backlot.”

The first half of “Da 5” is interspersed between Vietnam and the political effects of the war back home, with clips of Muhammad Ali defending his decision not to be drafted.

In the final scenes, ready to depart with what gold they’ve managed to collect, the vets are set upon by a group of vicious Vietnamese bandits.

In this strangely written confrontation, Lee and writers Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, for some reason, decided to paste in elements and lines from John Huston’s 1948 “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

“Da 5” is long, patchy, often confusing and graphically bloody. But it’s Spike Lee’s. Make of that what you will.

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.


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