Salvatore “Sal” Fragione (Danny Aiello) is the Italian owner of a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A neighborhood local, Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), becomes upset when he sees that the pizzeria’s Wall of Fame exhibits only Italian actors. Buggin’ Out believes a pizzeria in a black neighborhood should showcase black icons, but Sal disagrees. The wall becomes a symbol of racism and hate to Buggin’ Out and to other people in the neighborhood, and tensions rise.
Right from the opening dance number of Spike Lee’s 1989 widely-acclaimed Do the Right Thing, I instantaneously knew that this was going to be a movie unlike any I had ever seen before. Lee’s direction and style are so fresh and so exciting and it is obvious that he cares about this story and wanted to tell it in a slow-burning way.
Sure, the film could be described as a little bit lengthy as it is two hours of a slow-building character-driven narrative. I’m confident that many people will watch this film and say that really nothing happened in it until the last thirty minutes, but I have to disagree.
Whether its Mookie (Spike Lee) working at Sal’s pizzeria and doing deliveries, the rising tension in the streets, or the dynamic between Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) and Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), Do the Right Thing has multiple different characters but always ensures that each one is fleshed out enough to fully care about them.
Once all of these characters get introduced, we go on a journey of a coming-of-age drama unlike any other out there. One of the most impressive things about this movie is its unreliable tone. It oftentimes feels like an extremely upbeat and almost relaxing film with tons of eighties songs blasting on jukeboxes and people dancing in the streets. We see several people enjoying their hot summer day, ice cream trucks driving by, and having fun splashing water everywhere.
Lee’s film is full of life and love and has such a happy feeling to it, but it also feels so full of tension. You understand that the scene you are currently watching feels relatively tame and calm, but could be flipped on its head at any minute.
On top of all of these incredible elements, it’s also an impeccably shot film by Ernest Dickerson. His camerawork is full of vibrant colors and perfectly encapsulates the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
But aside from all of the absolutely stellar technical elements and character beats, the most impressive aspect to Lee’s film is its phenomenal social and racial commentary. It’s a riveting story of wanting racial equality and shows the mistreatment of black people in shocking and heartbreaking ways. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest scenes in the film is in the third act and is scarily accurate to what is going on in the world today and what recently happened in Minneapolis.
All in all, this is such a well-crafted film that touches on themes of race and equality in ways that were equal parts satisfying and heart-wrenching. It’s a deeply moving film that is so full of life and warmth yet feels so depressing and so down. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions and is one of the best films ever made.
Do the Right Thing is an expertly crafted film that touches on themes of race and equality in heart-wrenching and powerful ways. It’s slow-burning, quiet, and unique, and is simply one of the greatest films ever made.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Spike Lee
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: July 21, 1989
Running Time: 120 minutes