IN VIETNAM, black lives mattered, too.

Spike Lee's latest work is an anguished, funny, violent dispute with history. Spike Lee's career can be described as a lover's quarrel with American movies - and with America, too.

As he has demonstrated his mastery of established genres [the biopics, the musical, the cop movie, the combat picture and so on], he has also reinvented them, pointing out blind spots and filling in gaps.

His critique of Hollywood's long history of ignoring and distorting black lives has altered the way we look at movies. His attempts to expand the frame and correct the record have changed the course of the cultural mainstream.

I'm tempted to say that with ''Da 5 Bloods'' now on Netflix, Lee has done it again. But when has he ever repeated himself? This long, anguished, funny, violent excursion into a hidden chamber of the nation's heart of darkness isn't like anything else, even if it may put you in mind of a lot of other things.

In its anger, its humor and its exuberance - in the emotional richness of the central performances and of Terrence Blanchard's score - this is demonstrably a Spike Lee Joint. It's also an argument with and through the history of film.

The story, about the lethal consequences of a search for buried gold, is struck from the template of ''The Treasure of of the Sierra Madre.'' A journey upriver from Ho Chi Minh City into the Vietnamese interior recalls ''Apocalypse Now,'' which the characters have all seen. One of them is also a big ''Rambo'' fan.

And even as it takes up unfinished real-world business at home and in Vietnam, ''Da 5 Bloods'' wrestles with the scene of the defining myths and motifs of American cinema.

It's a western, concerned with greed, honor and loyalty and revenge. it's a bittersweet comedy involving a group of make friends looking back and growing old. It's a platoon picture about a dangerous mission, a father-son melodrama, an adventure story, a caper and a political provocation.

There's more. There's a lot. Double crosses, red herrings, dead certainties and live land mines. Furious debates about ends and means, money and morality, capitalism and imperialism Hawaiin-print shorts, tropical drinks, OxyContin bottles and ass\ault weapons. It doesn't always hold together but it never lets go.

As prologue to the main narrative, there is a churning, chronologically disordered montage of images from the 60s and 70s - news clips and photographs that illustrate the fateful convergence of military escalations in Southeast Asia and racial conflict in the United States.

Some of the faces and voices are familiar, and the lesson is clear.

The World Students Society thanks review author A.O.Scott.


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