Cert 15 Stars 5
Director Spike Lee is in typically incendiary form with this timely, technically superb, important and violent drama which explores the legacy of the Vietnam war and is in parts a history lesson, political statement and a call to arms.
Set in the present day and soundtracked by Marvin Gaye’s protest songs, it’s also a determinedly mainstream entertainment and we follow four African American army veterans who’ve returned to Vietnam in search of the remains of their squad leader Norman, and a secret stash of buried treasure.
Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Delroy Lindo are a tremendous ensemble of talent with a convincing camaraderie as ‘Da Bloods’, with the latter in particular on Oscar-worthy form, with the strong character development of the first half providing emotional firepower to every bullet spent in the blood-soaked second half.
In flashback Chadwick ‘Black Panther’ Boseman appears as Norman, while Jean Reno has fun as an arrogant Frenchman representing European colonisation, corruption and exploitation.
On a creative roll after his Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for 2018’s undercover cop thriller BlacKkKlansman, Lee knows better than to exhaust his audience, so he uses his experience and ability to time each of his dramatic punches so they land with the greatest possible impact.
Though Lee playfully riffs on the Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now, the biggest storytelling touchstone is 1948’s Oscar-winning tale of greed and madness, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which Humphrey Bogart starred as a desperate American adventurer abroad.
It’s fascinating to see the two films relating to each other across generations and geography in terms of style, tone and intent, and by directly referencing that classic Lee is asserting his undoubtedly deserved right to stand in the pantheon of great filmmakers.
I wish I’d been able to experience this on the big screen, though it’s no less a masterpiece on the small.