Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for Da Five Bloods.
To put it lightly, 2020 has been a bad year for just about everyone, and movie fans are among those suffering. While the handful of films released this year have been underwhelming, there have been a few diamonds in the rough, including The Invisible Man, The Way Back, and Bad Boys For Life. Beyond that, many of the big and exciting films scheduled to be released this year have either been indefinitely delayed or pushed back into next year. With theaters being forced to close down for the time being, streaming and on-demand films have been the only sources for new content.
One of the new and exciting movies to come out for streaming recently is Da Five Bloods. Coming off the heels of his critically-acclaimed film, BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee returns to the director’s chair with his first Netflix movie. The film follows a group of four Vietnam veterans returning to Vietnam years later in search of gold and the remains of their fallen friend.
Creative storytelling techniques
One of the unique aspects of this film is how it was shot. Throughout the movie, we jump back and forth between when our characters were in the Vietnam war and to present day. When these jumps in time happen, the aspect ratio and film stock change to give each setting of the film a different feel. Whenever the film jumps back in time to the war, the aspect ratio changes to 4 by 3, and by digitally reverse-engineering the film to appear as 16mm, they were able to give it a vintage look, similar to last year’s The Lighthouse. The movie begins with our characters getting ready to return to Vietnam. These scenes were shot in the standard 2:35 aspect ratio with a black bar on the top and bottom of the screen. Once our characters enter Vietnam, however, the aspect ratio changes again to a 3:2 ratio that looks like IMAX, where the black bars disappear and the picture fills the entire screen, giving these scenes a much grander feel to them. These distinctions in aspect ratio and film stock give each setting a distinct feel to help plug the viewer into the specific setting.
Beyond the filmmaking aspects of the movie, the entire cast brought their A game, with a particularly stellar performance by Chadwick Boseman as Stormin’ Norman. He took what easily could have been a forgettable performance, with a character that is only there to serve our main four, and made it the standout lead. He brings a likability to the character and has total command over the screen every time he is present. It didn’t feel as if Boseman was trying to hog the spotlight, but instead, it just felt like Boseman’s charm and natural charisma blended effortlessly with how the character was written, elevating the character to a higher level.
A passionate filmmaker
Looking back at BlacKkKlansman, one of the best aspects of that movie was how the viewer could feel the passion and enthusiasm Lee had for the film. That enthusiasm and passion is present in this film as well, and is even elevated. With the unique cinematography choices made in alternating between the different settings and other creative decisions, it shone through that the movie was the product of a passionate filmmaker.
A lackluster story
The movie starts out strongly, but unfortunately, it quickly withers away. It begins with our four leads before they go to Vietnam and moves at a brisk pace to keep the viewer engaged with the characters and the journey they’re about to endure. Once the characters get to the jungles of Vietnam, the movie continues to move along with the same quality as before, but around the halfway point, the movie starts to fall apart. Once the characters find the gold and the corpse of their dead friend, the movie becomes predictable and feels as if the filmmakers didn’t know where to take the story beyond that point. The pacing grinds to a halt and the movie drags from that point on, becoming rather clunky with its storytelling.
The ending is underwhelming and closes the story on a bit of a whimper. How they end the story for some characters isn’t satisfying and doesn’t hold up to the same quality as the beginning of the film. Some of the lead protagonists felt as if they went out of character and made choices just to serve a particular message the filmmakers wanted to convey. Wanting to have some of these characters make certain choices toward the end is fine, but a few rewrites to the script probably could have smoothed out these issues and made it feel more natural than it did.
Featured Image: IMDb
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