Anthony's Film Review

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee writes, produces, and directs a powerful film about race relations...

Every major filmmaker has a movie that propels him or her into the A-list, or at least launches his or her career. For Spike Lee, it would be his 1989 drama Do the Right Thing, a film that I think is a masterpiece. This is a film that should come to mind if you are interested in dramas about race relations. It is engaging, powerful, and ultimately unforgettable. Let me explain why this is so.

After an opening credits sequence featuring two women dancing in a street, the film introduces a wide variety of characters in a Brooklyn neighborhood. Mookie (Spike Lee) works as a pizza delivery boy for Sal (Danny Aiello), the owner of a pizzeria. Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) complains about the lack of a certain brand of beer sold in a liquor store run by a Korean couple. Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) is a woman who is often sitting at her window or on her front steps chatting with Da Mayor. Other characters include Smiley who has a speech impediment, Radio Raheem who has a large boombox playing a rap song called "Fight the Power," a radio DJ played by Samuel L. Jackson, a group of Latino youth, two white cops, three old men on a street corner, and many others I won't list only because the full list would be too long.

One thing becomes obvious after about 10 minutes into the film. There is no main character who gets more screen time than other characters designated as supporting and minor roles. Every character, no matter how minor, plays an important part. Basically, the cast of characters is a microcosm of American society featuring people from different ethnic backgrounds and living situations. In the beginning, the characters go about their own lives, but pretty soon, interracial conflicts begin. There are incidents that threaten the disturb the peace, like an antique car getting soaked in water, a rowdy customer in Sal's pizzeria, and a new pair of shoes made dirty by a passing bicycle. The result is a sense of tension that we in the audience can feel is slowly escalating.

The only thing that the characters have in common is that they are living in scorching hot weather. I'm sure you're thinking what I'm thinking. There is a purpose for having the movie take place in the heat of sweltering summer, and that is to represent the heat of sweltering racism. This is a good time for me to comment on the actors and actresses playing their parts. They all do a terrific job. Whether they are doing something mundane or getting involved in conflicts, the characters come alive with real emotion. It is very hard to turn our eyes away from these characters, because they are THAT engaging.

And you definitely have to give credit to Spike Lee. Besides playing Mookie, he has written, produced, and directed Do the Right Thing. As a screenwriter, Lee has successfully written dialogue that sounds so natural that it might as well be entirely unscripted. He also keeps the script interesting by frequently having new combinations of characters interacting with each other. As you watch the movie, you can't help but think that Lee had a clear vision of what his film would look like and did what he could to bring it to life. He has done a great job as someone with only a couple of minor film credits before Do the Right Thing.

The last thing I will comment on is the final part of the movie. Without going into detail, the climax of this movie is one of the most explosive sequences I've ever seen on film. The emotions involved are intense, because the situation in the climax really gets out of control. What's interesting is how we might quickly blame certain characters for triggering the climax, but if we think more deeply, we find that there may not be a clear answer to the true origin of what happens. And right before the credits roll, two quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, who were prominent African-American civil rights leaders of the 1960s with contrasting philosophies, scroll upward on the screen, giving us something more to think about.

Do the Right Thing is, I must say, a very good movie. Even without a plot in the traditional sense, the characters, including those who appear only a few times, definitely stick in our minds. And of course, the commentary and messages related to race relations are profound. The film holds a mirror up to portions of society that easily judge people based on race, and it makes us all think more about why that problem exists and what we should do about it. Spike Lee deserves a lot of credit for making a captivating film and getting us to think. He has indeed done the right thing.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Do the Right Thing, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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