Da 5 Bloods & The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Da 5 Bloods (2020) & The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) 2-in-1 review
Special thanks to Billy Lohr for recommending this Spike Lee joint!
Released back in 1948, John Huston’s adventure drama The Treasure of the Sierra Madre follows two American men who set out with a prospector to Mexico in search of gold. Originally based on the novel by B. Traven, the film won three Academy Awards the following year out of four nominations, only losing Best Picture to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet.
Spike Lee’s war drama Da 5 Bloods was released on Netflix just this past June. The film follows four African American veterans of the Vietnam war who return to the country in search of their fallen comrade, as well as a large cache of gold. While the film has yet to receive its inevitable Oscar nominations, the loose adaptation of the previously mentioned Treasure of the Sierra Madre did garnish strong critic reviews.
This is how to do a remake right here. Take a classic story with complex themes and adapt it. Don’t do the same thing that’s lazy (cough cough Rebecca). Honestly the only reason I am reviewing these together at all is because the differences between these two films is fascinating! Both work really well, but only one comes out on top for me for a few very specific reasons… So let’s dig in to these two Oscar worthy films and talk about a remake done right!
The core of these two films are the moral dilemma presented in its protagonists. When we first meet Humphrey Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs, well he’s a bit of a bum. But I mean, he’s Rick Blaine, of course he’ll turn out to be a charmer as usual… right? Absolutely brilliant casting. At the core of this film, we see a desperate man slowly lose his mind to paranoia and suspicion, as the film sets its eyes on what greed can do to a man. This is anchored by a performance from Bogart that goes from passable to downright perfect by the end.
Da 5 Bloods chooses another route, introducing us to protagonist Paul as a soldier dealing the most with the loss of their friend from the war. However as the film progresses, we quickly learn that Paul suffers from severe PTSD, which begins to present a danger to the rest of the group. Now the audience is presented with a totally different moral dilemma, presenting the same danger to those around him. And while Bogart didn’t receive an Oscar nomination, I really hope Delroy Lindo does. Both work well for me here, with both films telling a story we’ve seen before in a very new and compelling way.
Each film features equally strong supporting characters anchored by more fantastic performances. Sierra Madre sees Bogart take Howard under his wing, who ends up having just as much of a character arc by the end of the film as Hobbs. While I wouldn’t dare give things away about a 72 year old film, Howard ends up being the most interesting character in the film for me. Of course it helps that Walter Huston’s performance manages to outdo Bogarts enough to win an Oscar.
Da 5 Bloods yet again offers a compelling change, with the roll of Walter filled by David, Paul’s son. Instead of Howard following Hobbs in the dream of striking it rich, David means to repair his relationship with his father. While this is a significant different, the effect manages to be just as compelling in the end! And Lovecraft Country’s (2020-) Jonathan Majors does a wonderful job in this as well!
Aside from the general story layout, the similarities to break off after the core themes. Obviously Da 5 Bloods being a Spike Lee film, it offers a bit more when it comes to its overall message. This to me works for and against the film. Sierra Madre keeps it simple, yet is constantly emotionally gripping. Da 5 Bloods takes a look at the Vietnam war from different perspectives that we really don’t get to see that often, as well as the treatment of African Americans during the war both on the US and in Vietnam, the post-war Vietnam’s view of the American involvement, the French involvement in World War II- wait what? Yeah this has a payoff, but my point is, there might be a little too much going on. Granted I think the film is still compelling beginning to end!
Now when it comes to filmmaking, Sierra Madre’s win for Director at the Oscars helps showcase the strong filmmaking presented overall. I didn’t particularly think things like the editing or cinematography stood out beyond the fact that it’s really well made, but hey, it’s really well made. I still enjoyed the strong use of wides and close ups, and it’s something Newton Thomas Sigel kept in mind for the similarly well-shot Da 5 Bloods. I really liked the score in both films too! Sure I wouldn’t listen to them over and over, but both are perfectly fitting for the films they are in.
So let’s talk about what I didn’t like about Da 5 Bloods, because there’s nothing I didn’t like about Sierra Madre. Editing. Gosh I hate Spike Lee’s editing. While his in-your-face style occasionally works wonders, especially when it comes to Delroy Lindo’s mental descent, the constant use of inserts and cutaways to he can make potshots at Trump already date this film. Plus they are distracting. I get it, the story has alot to say. But if you are going to build tension, maybe don’t cut to a photo of a random athlete who has absolutely nothing to do with the story?
In the end, both these films are rather good. I would even go so far as to say they are great. Da 5 Bloods features really strong performances, including a truly fantastic performance from the late but great Chadwick Boseman. However despite the compelling story and strong themes, the editing alone makes me annoyed. I would watch this film again, and when this gets a Criterion Collection DVD release, I’ll own it. But Spike Lee isn’t for everyone, and I’m not sure I liked this quite as much as some of his other films. So in fairness, I’ll give Da 5 Bloods a solid 7/10. Treasure of the Sierra Madre? Fantastic. 9/10.
So The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Da 5 Bloods? Did you see the,? What did you think? And which did you like better? Be sure to leave us a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, be sure to let us know what you’d like us to review next!
-review by Ryan Prince