I’m going to be honest – going into this film I didn’t have the highest hopes. I didn’t rate Chadwick Boseman’s acting in Black Panther (the only film of his I’ve seen) and I really did not like Fences. In the first twenty minutes, which was mostly made up of the posturing of the band members and proving their masc, I had real fears about this movie – then it began to sing.
By the end, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom managed to completely turn my opinions. Boseman was mesmerizing and deserves all the nominations he is getting. Sure, the film is pretty much shot like a carbon copy of a play in places – to the point where I am not entirely sure how much ‘adapting’ there has been to the screenplay – but in many places it really does work.
This was never going to be a film to win it on direction and screenplay, but as a production piece with great music, costuming and stunning performances by Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis (then again, when has she turned out anything other than star quality) keep you going right until the end. As much as I love Davis, this film belongs to Boseman – whose monologues and mercurial words are nothing short than masterful.
It only made sense to put the two films together that have been pushing for posthumous nominations for Chadwick Boseman. Where I am totally on board with his powerhouse performance in Ma Rainey, I really do not see why he is in contention in Da 5 Bloods other than it being a posthumous nomination. True, his character hangs over the whole film as this is the story of four Vietnam veterans returning to find their lost friend’s remains and the gold they buried long ago, but unlike Amanda Seyfried in Mank or Mahershala Ali in Moonlight – it’s not like you are itching to see them back on screen.
That aside, big props have to be made to Delroy Lindo who is the best leading performance I have seen in a 2020 film so far. Sure, he is unlikable and does awful things like desert his son who has just been shot in the leg – but my word this is how you do a portrayal of a man still dealing with PTSD and who has gone for years without getting help and has ended up as a Trump supporter.
In some ways I see some degree of kinship between Da 5 Bloods and the classic film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in terms of the treasure hunt and the inherent futility of such a venture. Of course, with this being a Spike Lee film, there is a more current political message – specifically about black empowerment and ending on Black Lives Matters. I only hope that this message becomes tired and out of date as soon as possible.