Opening Up the Oscars: ‘Da 5 Bloods’ Tells a Story of Brotherhood Marred by the Violence of the Vietnam War


The Bloods gather around the rifle of their fallen squad leader in “Da 5 Bloods.” (Courtesy Netflix)

By Frank Gardner, Assistant Arts Editor

Warning: Contains spoilers for “Da 5 Bloods.”


“Da 5 Bloods” is a painfully raw display of the brutality of the Vietnam War and its aftermath on a group of men who fought in it. The film follows the story of Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman), who fought together in the Vietnam War in an infantry unit they called the “Bloods.” After decades apart, the four living Bloods reunite in Vietnam to look for the remains of their fallen squad leader Norman, and a case of gold they stashed during the war.

The Heavy Weight of War and a Plan to Find Solace

During the opening sequence of the film, footage from the Vietnam War is shown. Most of the footage depicts grisly violence and scenes from the United States during this time showing strong feelings of opposition many Americans shared about the war.

After the montage ends, we see the Bloods return to Vietnam, beginning their journey in Ho Chi Minh where they meet Vinh (Johnny Nyguen), who they’ve hired as a guide. We quickly find that Paul has become extremely bitter in his time since the war and is suffering from PTSD.

Otis connects with his old girlfriend Tiên (Y. Lan), who tells Otis that he is the father of their now-adult daughter. She also introduces the men to a Frenchman, Desroche (Jean Reno) who will help them smuggle the gold out of Vietnam. The group ventures into the jungle where they find the gold bars and Norman’s remains, which they pray over.  Things quickly escalate after Eddie steps on a landmine and is killed. Three volunteers from a landmine clean-up organization, LAMB, arrive and Paul threatens them at gunpoint, fearing they will be reported. That night, the group forces the gun out of Paul’s hands, forcing him to relinquish control of the outsiders he’s holding hostage. Seppo (Jasper Pääkkönen), one of the volunteers from LAMB, escapes.

The next morning a group of men with guns arrive with Seppo, demanding gold in exchange for him. In the resulting conflict, Seppo dies after stepping on a landmine and all but one of the gunmen are killed. Paul takes his gold and sets off on his own. As he makes his way through the jungle, Norman appears to him in a vision. It is revealed that Paul was responsible for Norman’s death. In the vision, Norman tells him to let go of his guilt. Paul is then discovered and killed by Desroche’s men. When Desroche finds the others, there is another shootout. Melvin is forced to sacrifice himself by jumping on a grenade thrown by Desroche. David then shoots Desroche right before Otis is killed by him.

When the dust settles, those remaining split the gold evenly. Some is given to Melvin’s widow — another portion to a Black Lives Matter organization and LAMB. Norman’s remains are returned to his family in the United States and Otis makes his peace with Tiên and his adult daughter.

The Making of ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and its Place at the Oscars

This film was directed by award-winning director and producer Spike Lee, who is well-known for his films like “Malcolm X” and “BlacKkKlansman,” among many others. As in his other films, Lee explores racism and politics in “Da 5 Bloods.” This film is a poignant reminder of the disproportionately difficult service rendered by Black Americans in the Vietnam War and explores the complex toll taken on those affected by the conflict. “Da 5 Bloods” is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score with music by Terence Blanchard.  “Da 5 Bloods” is available to stream on Netflix.