#29. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Richard Edson
Spike Lee’s seminal film about race relations is one of the greatest of its kind, serving as a stylish, intelligent, and poignant snapshot of New York in the late 1980’s. Do the Right Thing is one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen, largely in part to its soundtrack, quirky characters, and arresting finale, and was the film that made me a fan of rap group Public Enemy. The film follows an ensemble cast living in Brooklyn on one of the hottest days of the summer – Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man working for Sal (Danny Aiello)’s pizza shop, where his sons Pino (John Turturro) and Vito (Richard Edson) also work. Pino and Mookie bicker incessantly, and it’s made clear that Pino does not respect the largely black population of the neighbourhood. Also featured are Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who carries a boombox and constantly plays Public Enemy, Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), a local drunk trying to win the affections of a middle aged woman named Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), and Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a young man who protests Sal’s pizzeria for not embracing black culture. Together, this diverse cast of complex and compelling characters help to create one of the most important films of the 1980’s, if not of all time. Do the Right Thing is at its very best when the characters start to come together and interact with each other, with director Spike Lee’s cameras merely serving as a fly on the wall. Though it is the hottest day of the year and tensions are high, the interactions between characters feel established and well-worn, which is important and eventually leads to the film’s climactic breaking point. Mookie and Sal’s (Pino and Vito included) story is the most compelling – largely because it’s given the most time and attention – but is made even better when characters like Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out inject themselves into their scenes, if only for a moment. Spike Lee’s filmmaking throughout is frantic and incredibly stylish, using loud music, narration in the form of a radio broadcast, and a constantly moving camera to add some flare to the already frantically-paced film. Lee’s script establishes no characters as heroes and villains, instead letting their actions and words speak for them. The most powerful moments of Do the Right Thing are not outright explained by the writer-director, instead it’s entirely up to viewers to decide motivations and reasoning – one of the reasons Lee’s movie still resonates today. Do the Right Thing is a stylish, frenetic, and intelligent masterpiece about race relations that still feels relevant today – it deserves every bit of praise ever leveled at it.