2020 is finally over but before we send it off to the trash heap it deserves to be in, it’s time for the third annual Golden Cages, Flixist’s extremely coveted prize! Each year the Flixist staff gets together to vote on the best and worst films of the year and gives you lovely readers our true and honest thoughts. Plus since there are no other awards shows this winter (suck it Academy!) we’re now the de facto voice of truth in the film industry. So read on dear viewer and see which films win our lovely little award!
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is an ambitious and messy movie, with a nod to Apocalypse Now and a double-nod to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I agree with Sam’s review that Da 5 Bloods is both 30 minutes too long (its ideas could have been more focused and its events streamlined) and also one hour too short (imagine giving this script additional room to explore its ideas about trauma, race, capital, reparations, and colonialism/post-colonialism).
Quibbles with the script aside, the ensemble cast kept me glued to Da 5 Bloods for its entire 156 minutes. Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) seems at the cusp of becoming a star, and the late Chadwick Boseman’s appearance is welcome, but it’s veteran actor Delroy Lindo who commands Da 5 Bloods with his layered portrayal of Paul. He’s the man who deserves the Golden Cage for Best Actor, a career capstone for decades of reliable and often understated and underrated craft. (Boseman’s performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels like the close runner-up to Lindo’s performance here.)
Paul is a mire of fractured, conflicting identities. He’s a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, and a Black man who believes in solidarity and liberation, but he’s also an aggrieved Trump supporter who humps around in a sweaty Make America Great Again cap. Delroy Lindo allows these divergent identities to exist simultaneously. In his paranoia, madness, and pathos, we get a glimpse of a man in a never-ending war. There is fear and anger in him, and so much guilt. Simmering through much of the film, Lindo eventually unloads with barked commands, monologues to the camera, and scripture cried out as he wanders into the background.
Yet Lindo isn’t a singular force in Da 5 Bloods. The way he plays off Majors, Boseman, and his fellow Bloods (Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) imbues the film with unspoken history. There’s a distance he keeps from others, and genuine camaraderie as well. But there is also a sense of menace and betrayal. Kudos to the cast and their reactions as Paul is overtaken by greed and desperation; we know this isn’t the Paul they know.
On the page, in a workshop, Paul might be considered a contradiction. His politics and ideologies are inconsistent, and the MAGA hat is an obvious symbol for white supremacy and ugly Americanism at its whitest, ugliest, and most American. What the script for Da 5 Bloods gets right and what Delroy Lindo conveys is that people–real and imagined–aren’t meant to be models of consistency. People are shaped by their experiences, and all the hurts they choose to share and keep secret. Lindo deserves so much praise for making Paul seem fully realized. Though he’s not likable, he’s a sympathetic character, flesh and blood.