"Da 5 Bloods" earns its place among the best Spike Lee joints - a movie about war and the black soldiers who served a country where black lives haven't always mattered.
Part war epic and part treasure heist movie, set in present day with flashbacks to the fighting, it follows four Vietnam veterans returning to the battlefield to recover the body of their platoon leader and the gold they hid all those years ago. But it comes with a cost, as their war demons return.
Delroy Lindo gives a career-crowning performance - surely in line for an Oscar nomination - as a war-haunted fighter whose son surprises him tagging along for the trip, played by Jonathan Majors.
"Black Panther"'s Chadwick Boseman also effective in flashbacks as the man who didn't make it. Lee makes an interesting choice not de-aging the surviving veterans in flashbacks, thereby keeping the memories and PTSD fresh.
The movie takes a while setting the table, and while there are some predictable contrivances, the script by Lee, Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo and Kevin Wilmott is a feast of theatrical thrill and tension.
Lee has never been subtle infusing his movies with political activism, and while some of the icons he uses here are explicit, some of the questions and ideas are more complex and worthy of discussion among friends. That's what good art should do, and "Da 5 Bloods" is another excellent piece of work from one of the critical filmmaking voices of his generation.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * *
* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing* * Mediocre - You can do better