Saturday, April 29, 2017

Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing; drama, USA, 1989; D: Spike Lee, S: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, Rosie Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Lawrence

The hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. Sal is an Italian American who runs a pizzeria in an mostly black neighborhood. His son Pino, a racist, and Vito work in the pizzeria, as does African-American Mookie, who is still in bad relations with his girlfriend, Tina, with whom he has a child. There are also several other characters in the neighborhood: the old Da Mayor, who drinks to forget how his family is hungry; Smiley, a mentally disabled man who sells photos of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the street... When Buggin' Out complains that Sal's pizzeria doesn't contain a single photo of African-American on the wall, Sal throws him out. Buggin' Out thus wants to boycott Sal's place. That evening, he brings Radio Raheem who plays loud music on his radio in Sal's place. When Sal loses his temper and smashes the radio, it escalates into a fight, which ends in a police officer killing Raheem. This incites a riot in which people burn down Sal's pizzeria.

Spike Lee's breakthrough film that talks about racial relations in America is good, yet it once again proves one thing: that social issue alone doesn't always subsume genuine greatness. "Do the Right Thing" is one of those films without a real story, an episodic, 'slice-of-life' film that instead just follows 24 hours in life on a particular place, which is legitimate, yet not all episodes are equally great. For instance, the side-character of Ossie Davis' Da Mayor leads nowhere, nor does that of racist Pino — both of their arcs are left incomplete and do not connect at the end, and thus the storyline seems slightly unfocused and random at times. Lee is also contrived at times: would Buggin' Out really freak out and make such a fuss over a guy accidentally passing over his sneakers with a light bicycle? Isn't that overreacting? Isn't that silly? However, Lee proves to have a steady hand and directs the movie in an elegant way, whereas he has a talent for writing good dialogues here and there — for instance, when Buggin' Out, who has a "hip" hair due, wants to persuade three men to boycott Sal's pizzeria, one of them has an appropriate response ("You should boycott the goddamn barber that messed up your head!") or the sequence where Mookie talks with Pino and cannot understand his racism even though the man admits all his favorite basketball players, comedians and singers are all black (Magic Johnson, E. Murphy, Prince). It is also interesting how the film contemplates that nobody in the neighborhood is happy with their lives due to various problems (unemployment, low-income jobs, "grey" existence...) and thus the heat wave only serves as a catalyst for people to take out their frustrations on someone, the wrong one, even though that doesn't address their problems at all, nor does it give a solution. The most was achieved out of the brilliant Danny Aiello as Sal, who gives a truly excellent performance that carries the entire film.


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