Spike Lee finally won a competitive Oscar when he took home Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman” (2018), and he follows that up with his first film for Netflix, “Da 5 Bloods,” which premiered on the streaming service on June 12. Netflix has been fertile ground for other auteurs who have made critically hailed films with the streaming service in recent years (Alfonso Cuaron‘s “Roma,” Noah Baumbach‘s “Marriage Story,” Martin Scorsese‘s “The Irishman“). So how does “Bloods” compare to those and to Lee’s past work?
As of this writing the film has a MetaCritic score of 82 based on 36 reviews counted thus far: 32 positive, three somewhat mixed and only one outright negative. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film is currently rated 91% fresh based on 97 reviews; RT only classifies reviews as positive or negative, as opposed to MC’s sliding scale from 0 to 100, so that means 88 critics generally liked the film while 9 generally disliked it. The RT critics’ consensus summarizes those reviews by saying, “Fierce energy and ambition course through ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ coming together to fuel one of Spike Lee’s most urgent and impactful films.”
Those critical scores are on par with “BlacKkKlansman,” which scored 83 on MetaCritic and 96% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. “Da 5 Bloods” is being described as “Spike Lee at his mature best,” “epic and introspective,” “raw and rewarding” with “excellent performances” from an ensemble cast that includes Clarke Peters, Jonathan Majors, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman and Giancarlo Esposito, “but this superb, haunting contraption belongs to Delroy Lindo,” who is “absolutely mesmerizing.” Lee’s films rarely work for everyone, though, and it has also been argued that the film doesn’t adequately explore “the complexities of Blackness, war, and global imperialism.”
So will it be another Oscar contender for Lee? Perhaps his chance to become the first Black winner of Best Director? Netflix has made huge advances at the Oscars despite some push-back against streaming films competing for kudos alongside traditional theatrical releases. “Roma” won three Oscars including Best Director, “Marriage Story” took home Best Supporting Actress (Laura Dern) and “The Irishman” picked up 10 nominations. But the online distributor has yet to win Best Picture.
However, the coronavirus pandemic ground the movie theater business to a halt in 2020, prompting the academy to temporarily loosen its restrictions against streaming films. Could that lead to a breakthrough, especially at a time of widespread protest in support of Black lives? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more here with your fellow movie fans.
Caryn James (BBC): “‘Da 5 Bloods’ is Spike Lee at his mature best, made with his distinctive, passionate voice and kinetic artistry. Lee’s usual mix of drama and social commentary is rooted more than ever in the harsh emotional realities of his characters here … Lee and his cinematographer, Newton Thomas Sigel, beautifully capture the various textures of the friends’ experiences”
Odie Henderson (RogerEbert.com): “As expected, Lee gets excellent performances out of his cast straight down the line and is unafraid to coax out moments of love and affection to undercut the expected machismo of his Bloods … But this superb, haunting contraption belongs to Delroy Lindo, whose complicated work here almost rivals Denzel Washington’s turn in ‘Malcolm X.'”
Zaki Hasan (IGN): “‘Da 5 Bloods,’ Spike Lee’s epic and introspective meditation on the Vietnam war, is another reminder of the filmmaker’s considerable storytelling skills irrespective of what genre he chooses to work in. Bolstered by an absolutely mesmerizing central performance from Delroy Lindo, the film is a raw and rewarding deep dive into two countries’ still-open wounds decades after the intractable conflict that stitched them together.”
Ashley Ray-Harris (The A.V. Club): “With the film, Lee offers his submission to a history of bloodied, masculine Vietnam War movies. Sadly, he’s more concerned with making a Vietnam movie that looks Black than one that actually takes on the complexities of Blackness, war, and global imperialism … Images of Aretha Franklin and real historical Black war protestors don’t do enough to absolve Eddie, Otis, Paul, and Melvin of the acts we see them commit.”