July. November. November. November. November. Those are when the films starring last year’s Best Supporting Actor nominees were released. The year before: November. August. October. October. December. Point is, it’s hard to get nominated for an Oscar; it’s harder to get nominated in an acting category if your film comes out before the fall; and it’s hardest to get nominated in an acting category if your film comes out before the fall, and the world is in chaos. Delroy Lindo has a lot working against him (including the Academy’s history of failing to recognize incredible performances from Black actors), but in Spike Lee’s Netflix movie Da 5 Bloods, he gives the first Oscar-lock performance of the year. He may not win, but he’s damn sure going to get nominated.
It’s not that there haven’t been Oscar-worthy performance this year. There have been plenty. But I have a hard time imagining the Academy acknowledging Sidney Flanigan’s powerfully internalized work in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, or Margot Robbie as chaos personified in Birds of Prey (if Suicide Squad can win an Oscar…), or Elisabeth Moss in Shirley, or Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man, or Elisabeth Moss in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which isn’t out yet, but come on. It’s Elisabeth Moss.
I hope I’m wrong, and they’re all nominated, but I know that I’m right about Lindo.
Da 5 Bloods is about four Vietnam War veterans — Paul (Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and Eddie (Norm Lewis), as well as Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors) — who return to the Southeast Asian country for the remains of their long-deceased squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and buried gold. Few directors make educational films as entertaining as Lee, and this is one of his best: it’s funny, violent, anguished, insightful, and a little long, but every time the action begins to drift, something comes along to reignite your interest and Lee’s fury; he successfully taps into the centuries-old trauma that fuels the Black Lives Matter movement.
Also, there’s a great soundtrack. More movies should use multiple Marvin Gaye songs.
The “bloods,” as they call themselves, have lived very different lives since the fall of Saigon in 1975, but as former-soldiers, they all share the same trauma; especially as Black soldiers, who fight and disproportionately die for a country that doesn’t grant them the same opportunities as white Americans. Paul, who proudly wears a Make America Great Again hat and has a contemptuous relationship with his actual flesh-and-blood, has internalized his anger and sadness (and PTSD) the most. But his guilt and paranoia begin to leak, like toxic ooze, the longer he stays in a place he’d rather forget.
Lindo has worked with Lee before, including Malcolm X and Crooklyn, but he gives a career-defining performance in Da 5 Bloods. You feel and sympathize with his pain, even when he’s at his worst; while his comrades dance and pal around like they’re attending a high school reunion (Whitlock, Jr. treats the trip as such, often holding a tropical drink), Paul seethes. “We won’t let nobody use our rage against us. We control our rage,” Stormin’ Norman advises to his fellow soldiers in a non-digital de-aged flashback (it’s not as distracting as you might think). Paul can’t control his rage any longer. It’s stunning.
Lindo was initially hesitant to put on the MAGA cap, and doesn’t personally know any black Trump supporters, but as he told the Guardian, “I have a cousin who was in ’Nam and it still rankles him that he was reviled as a ‘baby-killer.’ So if one extrapolates that kind of rejection, one can end up at a place where you say, OK, here’s a man, Trump, who’s saying I’m going to make things right for Americans. I like what he’s saying.” Paul likes what Trump’s saying, but Lindo plays him with a complexity that transcends politics.
Late in the film, Paul begins to speak directly to the camera while hacking his way through the jungle with a machete, his sanity slipping with every step. It’s the Colonel Kurtz scenes we don’t see in Apocalypse Now (which is referenced multiple times in the movie). Lindo’s monologue is raw and powerful, and sweaty. So sweaty! I’ve always thought the key to a great live album is when you can hear the sweat pouring from the singer on stage. Next February, Lindo better be on stage, too, holding an Oscar.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ is available to stream now via Netflix.