Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.
The Snapshot: Delroy Lindo plays a PTSD-stricken Vietnam vet on a mission to recover millions in gold that he and four others buried during the war in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. (Streaming on Netflix as of June 12, 2020.)
The Performer: Delroy Lindo
The Movie: Da 5 Bloods
With everything going on in the world, you might not think a Vietnam war film would feel timely. But this is 2020 and a Spike Lee Joint no less, so social relevance is of the highest order.
When we first meet Paul (Delroy Lindo), he’s reuniting with three of his friends and fellow U.S. army vets (da “Bloods”) from his infantry at a Vietnamese hotel in Saigon. Paul is strong-minded, and stubbornly opinionated, perhaps best represented by the revelation that he is a Trump supporter much to his friends’ dismay. If there was any doubt, he spends a decent chunk of the two-hour, 34-minute movie in a “Make America Great Again” hat. (It’s an element Lindo actually took issue with and asked Lee to reconsider according to this New York Times piece.)
As we soon learn, all four of them are on a quest to recover millions of dollars worth of gold they buried during the war with their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). Stormin’ Norman, as they called him, made a lasting impression on all of them – most of all Paul, who still sees and talks to Norman’s ghost at night as part of his residual trauma from the war.
Adding stress to an already wound-tight man, Paul’s grownup son David (played by Jonathan Majors) shows up just as the four men are getting ready to set out in search of the buried fortune. David has followed them from home after accessing his dad’s email and insists on being involved – and a fair share. This is not something Paul wants at first, but his hands are tied.
David: If the authorities find out about this, y’all going back to the crib empty handed.
Paul: So, you just a little jive-ass gangster now, huh?
David: After everything you put me through, I’d say you’re getting a basement bargain.
Paul: You ungrateful little black-studies teaching n—a.
Once they head out into a more peaceful present-day Vietnam to dig up their old fortune, other memories and nightmares get dug up along the way. It’s a journey where they encounter their past amid wretched terrain and maybe a few people who don’t want them to succeed at their goal.
Lindo does a rather brilliant job of encapsulating a Vietnam vet’s real-life struggles in several areas. From the havoc wreaked on a soldier’s psyche once they’re dumped back into society with little more than a ‘thank you’ for their service – to the social commentary on the disparity of which black men were “ordered into a war to die without the faintest idea of what’s going on,” as the Vietnamese radio broadcaster Hanoi Hannah puts it in a war flashback. Da 5 Bloods reminds why war is hell and comments on racial inequities at the time under the guise of patriotism.
In one scene, in present day Vietnam, we see Paul react aggressively to a Vietnamese merchant who paddles up to his riverboat, trying to sell him a chicken. Paul is annoyed at first, but when the person doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, the situation escalates into Paul having a breakdown, when the Vietnamese merchant accuses him and his friends of killing his parents in the war.
In a separate episode later in the film, Paul’s paranoid and bellicose behavior leads him to the extremes once again after one of the film’s tenser episodes involving landmines in the forest.
All throughout, Lindo is hard not to watch as a study of a man not just scarred by war – but imprisoned by its tax – as the walls close in on him even as the prospects of a richer future await.
There haven’t been many performances like it this year and Lindo’s almost assured to be recognized for his exceptional portrayal once the already-pushed back awards season heats up.
When you’ve been at it as long as Lindo has, it’s hard to encapsulate the full journey of this steadily working actor on his way to landing the role of Paul in Da 5 Bloods.
As a quick snapshot, Lindo’s done roughly 70 movies and TV shows in a career spanning 45+ years. As his IMDB mini-bio would have it, the 67-year-old actor was born and raised in England to a set of Jamaican parents. After a short stint in Canada, where his mom worked as a nurse, they moved to the U.S. when Lindo was 16, where he began studying acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he graduated in 1979.
Lindo made his film debut in More American Graffiti that same year (after doing some light TV work prior to that). In a twist, his next decade was spent almost entirely on stage after making his Broadway debut in “Master Harold and the Boys” (1982). Lindo eventually got nominated for a Tony for his work on stage in August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (1988).
That’s when his career hit the high gear, leading to all sorts of projects on both screens, eventually highlighted by memorable roles in films like Get Shorty and Clockers in 1995. But it was really his roles in Spike Lee’s Malcom X (1992) and Crooklyn (1994), which are most influential in his reunion with Lee for Da 5 Bloods, which lands during a period of civil unrest.
Worth mentioning is that Lindo has been a star on CBS’ The Good Fight since the show started, playing high-powered Chicago attorney, Adrian Boseman. But last winter, Lindo opted to leave after four seasons to do the ABC drama pilot, Harlem’s Kitchen, set to premiere later this year.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.