Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Written and Directed by Spike Lee

If I had done the right thing, I would have seen this film back when it was released in 1989. Fortunately for me, it has now been restored and released in a 20th anniversary edition BD and it has been so with great care. I have never been a huge Spike Lee enthusiast but DO THE RIGHT THING is perhaps his most inspired work, especially when watching it now and comparing it to his more contemporary offerings, which are tame and conventional by comparison. As Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson), the local radio host announces right at the start of the film, it is hot, damn hot on this one block in the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn. It is so hot on this one day that the people who call this block their home or conduct their business here can no longer contain their mounting frustrations with each other and the strained race relations in New York City. Despite the heat, Lee plays it cool and crafts what is his most balanced and honest work on the subject of racism.

There is something almost whimsical about it all. People gather on porch stoops, watch from their windowsills and dance in the street while the water from a nearby hydrant cools them down temporarily. There are even three older guys sitting at the corner and griping all day long about what they see, like a repurposed Greek chorus. Lee is both the leader and the center of the picture as he takes on the role of writer/director and star of the film. It is certainly an ensemble but Lee’s Mookie, who delivers pizza for Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, ties the film’s series of events and characters together. The rest of the cast is a delight to behold – from Danny Aiello as Sal (for which he earned an Oscar nod) to Ozzie Davis as Da Mayor and Rosie Perez, in her first film appearance as Mookie’s girlfriend, Tina. Each character is a hybrid of theatrical cliché and hard reality and, thanks to Lee’s presentation of these characters in such a classical fashion, each is sympathetic despite their imperfections.

The central racial conflict revolves around Sal’s refusal to post a picture of an African-American hero or celebrity on his wall of fame. His logic is that is his wall and he can do whatever he likes with it and the opposing view is that he may own the wall but the African-American clientele is what keeps his wall up. It is simple enough a conflict and arguably, also a simple solution but it ends in the most violent and cathartic of resolutions, all of which are explored in the extensive extras included on this disc. A new documentary, put together by Lee himself, looks back at the reaction to the film while an hour-long documentary made at the time puts you right on the block as if you were there as one of the extras. Lee also recorded a new commentary for this edition but, admittedly, it has been some time since he last saw the film so he does not have a lot new to offer. With the amount of extras on this disc though, this is hardly a problem.

The title of the film is casually dropped shortly in when Mookie stops to speak with Da Mayor on his way to work. Da Mayor offers it up as the advisory ramblings of a drunk, old man and Mookie absorbs it with the attention of a young man with better places to be. Yet it resonates throughout the film and up and down the street where most of the people are trying to do just that.


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