As Spike Lee’s new film Da 5 Bloods hits Netflix, here are my: Da Top 5 Vietnam War Movies
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola’s film stands as the Daddy of all ‘Nam war movies, maybe the greatest of all War movies, and the clearest influence on Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, too (specifically, I think Spike referencing the Redux version with the restored scenes at the French plantation house, starring Aurore Clement). Coppola’s film is utter madness and chaos but manages a firm through line, from Martin Sheen’s arrival to the journey up river to find Dennis Hopper’s zealous disciple and, eventually, to Marlon Brando’s crazed Colonel Kurtz.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The only Vietnam movie shot in east London, Stanley Kubrick’s film focuses on the societal systems and mental torture of war. It stands as THE example of military toughness demanded by Gunnery Sergeant played by real-life, Vietnam vet drill sergeant R Lee Emery – that first half of the film is, simply, a masterpiece with a literally mind-blowing climax.
The Fog of War (2003)
Errol Morris’ documentary is basically a one-on-one grilling of former US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and the film maker draws out some shocking revelations from a surprisingly willing subject. It amounts to a chilling dissection of what the minds of those who decide to carry out war have to go through. “In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil,” chimes out and, amid the bluster and obfuscation and excuses and confusion, Morris’ editing and archive footage does the rest.
Casualties of War (1989)
This was the ‘Brat Pack’ ‘Nam movie: Brian De Palma’s film pits fresh-faced Michael J Fox against a superb Army bully in Sean Penn, who exhorts his platoon in the kidnap and rape of a young Vietnamese woman. It’s Penn’s best screen performance, a film of morality and conseqences.
Da 5 Bloods (2020) featured image
Yes, I’m putting it straight into the pantheon. Why not? It’s got a riveting awards-worthy performance from Delroy Lindo and a Marvin Gaye soundtrack powered by a political anger spanning 50 years, from the Black Panthers to Donald Trump. It’s a film about the legacy of the way both in the US and, of course, in the new, tourist-friendly Vietnam, as well as the themes of greed, survival, loyalty, paternity and race. I can’t think of another Vietnam film that has packed so much in.