'Da 5 Bloods': What the Critics Are Saying

Da 5 Bloods Still 2 - Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of Netflix

The Spike Lee film received mostly positive reviews from critics, specifically praising its timeliness.

The initial batch of reviews are in for Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods.

Lee directed, co-wrote and produced the film, which follows four African-American vets that return to Vietnam later in life. During the trip, the men look for the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide. The Netflix film stars Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Paakkonen and Jean Reno.

As of late Wednesday morning, the film had a 92 percent approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic David Rooney praised the film's "uncanny" timeliness. "The director wastes not a second before taking a cold plunge into his real subject — the broken promises made to black Americans," wrote Rooney. The critic added that Lee is "unafraid to risk charges of didacticism as his characters reveal wounds inflicted in the past that still bleed in the present." Rooney also noted that the two-and-a-half-hour film "has a lot of plot" to unpack, though Lee "shuffles through it with fluidity and verve, aided by the tetchy but mostly genial group's camaraderie." The writer concluded, "Structural flaws notwithstanding, this movie is a gift right now, and there's no other director that could have made it." 

RogerEbert.com critic Odie Henderson called the film "excellent" with "far more on its mind than its plot details would suggest." Despite the "occasional messiness of the script," Henderson said that Lee "knows the power of captivating an audience so he can goad them into sticking around for his message." Henderson also praised the performances from the cast members. "Whitlock presents yet another hilarious iteration of his persona, Lewis exudes a confidence that is clearly hiding a sadder truth, Majors is as revelatory as he was in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Peters is a very effective voice of reason," he wrote.

Travis Hopson from Punch Drunk Critics wrote that Lee is "on the top of his game like never before" with Da 5 Bloods. Noting that the film is "timely and important," Hopson wrote that "Lee, along with co-writers Kevin Willmott, Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, put a lot of burden on themselves to tell as vast a story as possible." The critic wrote that many of Lee's iconic techniques are used in the film, including "mixing of archival footage to the classic dolly shot," though pointed out that the film is violent and "the digital blood can be distracting when everything else is so authentic." Hopson concluded, "While the lack of a true focus can muddle the message somewhat, Lee is never short on big ideas and he’s one of the few directors we would trust to share them in the way he does."

We Live Entertainment's Aaron Neuwirth also gave Da 5 Bloods a positive review, noting that the film is part of Lee's successful "streak" with writer Willmott. The two also worked together on 2018's BlacKkKlansman. "Not willing to settle down or hold back on ambition, Da 5 Bloods finds Lee operating on all his high functioning levels," wrote Neuwirth. The critic added that Lee manages "to continue pushing valuable messages amid an exciting adventure and times in need of guidance." Neuwirth concluded, "He’s also come prepared with a terrific cast and crew to help him deliver."

Robert Daniels from The Playlist called Da 5 Bloods "Lee's most prescient film to date, and at times, his most thematically packed flick." After praising Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography, Daniels noted that the film "suffers from languid pacing, partly owing to the epic nearly bursting open from its litany of themes." On a more positive note, the critic complimented the timeliness of the end of the film. "The last fifteen minutes, which offers a Good Will Hunting level of catharsis, plays so relevantly and powerfully, it’s as if Lee filmed the concluding scenes during the last two weeks," he wrote. "While not perfect, nothing worthwhile ever is."

In a more negative review, NOW Toronto's Radheyan Simonpillai called the film "a ragged, rambling and occasionally careless movie where tangents and observations are far more compelling than the whole." Pointing out the film's "uncanny urgency and relevance," Simonpillai wrote that the plot of the film "may ultimately be a vessel for the incisive observations and footnotes about history that often interrupt the plot." He added that "the gold element also undermines the movie’s strengths."

Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post gave Da 5 Bloods three out of four stars. Calling the film a "relatively conventional, drama," Hornaday said that the "moments of stinging insight and soaring cinematic rhetoric once again prove why Spike Lee might be America’s most indispensable filmmaker." She added that the didactic digressions used in the film "might drag down the narrative" when used by other filmmakers, though "Lee’s passion and fluency make them far more engaging than the putative drama of Da 5 Bloods."

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers wrote that Lee hit "a new career peak" with Da 5 Bloods. After praising Sigel for his cinematography and Terence Blanchard for the score, Travers wrote that Da 5 Bloods, as well as John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, are among the "rare films that get how greed can lead to betrayal and brother-against-brother warfare." The critic concluded, "It’s impossible to watch Da 5 Bloods without hearing the cry for racial justice reverberate in every frame. Lee has made more than a soul-stirring film for our time. He’s made one for the ages."