Movie Review–Do the Right Thing (1989)

Written and Directed by Spike Lee
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson
Length: 2 hours
Rated R for Language, Violence, and Nudity

Available on Netflix


If it hadn’t been for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall or the birth of yours truly, Do the Right Thing would have been the best thing to happen in 1989. The film cost less than $7 million dollars to make, and yet it is one of the single most important in cinematic history. It is indeed a rarity, a combination of so many elements that make movies great.

The story centers on Mookie (Spike Lee) a young, black Brooklynite who delivers pizzas for a living.   Mookie navigates his world like an ancient Greek hero, encountering people from all spectra of life. There’s the wise (even if drunk) old man simply called Da Mayor (Ossie Davis). Like a Homeric oracle he offers Mookie the cryptic advice to “always do the right thing”. Then there’s Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), the Fool of the tale who is always opening his mouth at the wrong time. Who else? The mad king, Sal (Danny Aiello), owner of the local pizzeria; his son, the cocky antagonist Pino (John Turturro); the intimidating warrior Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn). The list goes on. Reining all these characters into a comprehensible story is local radio DJ, Mister Señor Love Daddy marvelously portrayed by Sam L. who plays the part like a one-man Greek chorus.

No epic tale would be complete without its monsters, and that’s where Do the Right Thing delivers. The monsters in this tale are not physical, but social forces–things not spoken of out loud, but manifest themselves violently and unexpectedly. Racism, mistrust, fear, helplessness. These are the things that drive the conflict of the story.

I try not to give anything away in my reviews, so I won’t tell you how it ends, but it packs a punch to the gut–you won’t like it, but you’ll be moved by it in one way or another. Do the Right Thing is on my short list of movies you have to watch. It has compelling characters, rich photography, and groundbreaking narrative techniques. The story is populated by moments of love, laughter, hate, heartbreak, and all the little things in between. But more importantly, it has a weight beyond the movie. There is real world value, and a call to action. If you think movies are only about entertainment, you’re wrong. I won’t even agree to disagree. You’re just wrong. Sometimes they need to be more than that. Do the Right Thing is entertaining plus a lot more, and it is the very best kind that the world of film has to offer.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 11.01.58 PM

4 out of 4 stars


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