Do the Right Thing (1989) (R)

It's going to be a hot day.
A heat flash has left a neighborhood in Brooklyn uncomfortably warm for days. There seems to be no end in sight to the misery, so the people all cope with it in their different ways. Fanning with paper, drinking "ice cold" beer, ice cream, snow cones: none of it really seems to work.
Much like "Dog Day Afternoon", the heat is part of the growing madness. The temperature seems to go to the characters's brains; we see tempers mounting and an undesirable ending seem inevitable.
"Do the Right Thing" is the much celebrated project from Spike's the work that launched his name into stardom. Called a precursor to "Crash", "Do the Right Thing" deals heavily with racial tensions and stereotypes.
Sal's Pizzeria is the happening place for "Do the Right Thing". We follow a day in the life of the people who live around the restaurant. There's the American-Italian family that runs the eatery, the Koreans across the street, one token Caucasian man (played by John Savage in a cameo), and the rest of the cast are African American.
It's clear that Lee had a hand in making the film—heck, he did everything. Writing, producing, and directing; Spike Lee obviously tailored this film to his liking.
Visually, it's very bold. Sharp angles reflect conversations, dialogue is spoken to the camera, bright reds and oranges are used as backdrops, and then there's the intro.
"Fight the power" is the line heard again and again throughout the film, but it's unclear whether Spike Lee is supporting this or protesting it. It's what makes the film intriguing.
While some might assume that all "Do the Right Thing" does is show how racism still exists; the film does much more than that.
Our main character is Mookie (Spike Lee again), a pizza delivery boy for Sal's. He is lazy but determined, running on his own time and trying to duck as much of the heat as he can.
Mookie seems like the typical unsung protagonist, an average guy. But I didn't care for him as a character, I think the film could have fared better without him in it. Instead of using an overriding arc character that forced everything to cohere together; this film could have been more chaotic. The people would be unaware of each other without Mookie to tie them together...then they would slam into each other (sort of like "Crash").
"Do the Right Thing" says its most poignant statement with bizarre characters like Mother Sister, Buggin' Out, Radio Raheem, Coconut Sid, Sweet Dick Willie, Mister Señor Love Daddy, and Da Mayor.
Da Mayor is the Yoda-like character, the one who makes the most sense. He flits and flirts from scene to scene; the only character who is beyond critique on the surface. As we dig deeper into Da Mayor's character, there could be signs of neglect and laziness. Certainly, he's a drunk; but he's a lovable drunk so that's okay....right?
The script is really great and gives way to several fascinating quotes:
Many of the African American characters are told to "stay black"...this is a repeated phrase. It just cements what Lee is trying to accomplish.
Da Mayor tells Mookie, in a state of drunkenness, "do the right thing" (Hey guys! It's the movie's title! Do you see what they did there?)
Not only does the film talk about racism; but it addresses age versus youth in curious ways.
Mookie is the preachy character of the movie, he lets everyone know how non-stereotypical black people are...this is great, but it would have been nice to see it coming from multiple people and not in one sitting.
There's one odd section that is a direct quote from "The Night of the Hunter" about love and hate. But the message is different and the delivery is even more maniacal (if that was possible).
Eventually the movie turns into a predictable shout-fest.
I'm not saying the movie is bad; but I think that better movies with Lee's message have been made.
It's quite a film—just shy of great.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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