Revisiting ‘Do the Right Thing’


“Do the Right Thing” is a classic for a reason. A raw, unflinching look at hate and bigotry in 1980s Brooklyn, Spike Lee’s third movie is painfully relevant 33 years later. “Do the Right Thing” is a hilarious movie, even with the rough subject matter. The humor and beautiful cinematography make this a movie a lot easier to rewatch and experience the heartbreaking social commentary on racism in America.

“Do the Right Thing” follows an ensemble of residents of a close-knit Brooklyn community going about their business on a sweltering summer day. Mookie, played by the writer and director Spike Lee, is a delivery man for a pizzeria owned and operated by Sal, an Italian-American father played by Danny Aiello. Sal’s sons help their father run the restaurant, Vito, played by Richard Edson is a friend to members of the community, unlike his brother Pino, played by John Turturro, who is an angry man whose racist comments and beliefs create further division in the neighborhood.

After Mookie’s friend Buggin’ Out, played by a young and fresh faced Giancarlo Esposito, gets into an argument with Sal about there being no Black people displayed on the pizzeria’s wall of fame, the racial tensions rise with the temperature of the scorching summer day. The hate and heat come to a boiling point leaving the characters, and the audience watching, in shock and horror.

One of my favorite parts of “Do the Right Thing” is the stellar ensemble cast. Mookie makes deliveries and interacts with the many eccentric residents of the neighborhood. From Mister Senor Love Daddy, the radio DJ played by Sammuel L. Jackson, to Radio Raheem, the stoic man always equipped with his boombox blasing Public Enemy played by Bill Nunn, to the local drunk with a heart of gold known as Da Mayor, played by Ossie Davis, Mookie’s interactions with the members of his community make the movie feel alive and the characters feel real. The setting, a Black Brooklyn neighborhood, feels just as much a character as the actors we watch. Some characters have only a few minutes of screentime, but their performances, dialogue and life they bring make them all unique and distinct.

While the ensemble as a collective is a powerhouse of acting talent, the main actor does not nearly have the same prowess of his supporting cast. Lee is a wildly talented director and writer, but his acting ability leaves much to be desired. His flat delivery is an aspect of Mookie’s character, but I really got the impression Lee was acting. This is not always a bad thing, but when the supporting cast all have performances that feel effortless and real, Lee’s portrayal of Mookie is not nearly on the same level as his co stars.

“Do the Right Thing” is a gorgeous movie. The purposefully oversaturated colors give the movie the look of a cartoon brought to life, which is expertly juxtaposed by the subject matter. I already found this to be a visually stunning movie when I saw it on Blu-ray for my first watch. For the rewatch that I am basing this review on I had the pleasure of seeing this movie on an original 35mm film print at the Gene Siskel Center which is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from the Chicago Theater. The colors of this movie looked even better when I saw this at the Siskel Center, and the grain of the film added to the overall experience. “Do the Right Thing” uses the camera to help build on the tensions of the movie with unnatural angles and tight closeup shots. The camerawork is still stunning 30 years later.

My favorite scene in this movie is when Buggin’ Out’s new Jordans accidentally get scuffed by a white guy. Buggin’ Out proceeds to verbally assault the man with great comedic effect, alongside his friends joining in from the sidelines to stir the pot more. Something as mundane as sneakers getting scuffed is made enthralling and wildly entertaining by the performances and tight script. The movie is chock full of moments like this which add to the humanity of the story.

“Do the Right Thing” is a great movie because of the open-ended nature of the title and what each character thinks is the right thing. It is a movie that does not have clear answers, much like the real world we all live in. This one hot day in Brooklyn is a microcosm of America and the world as a whole, and it is both sad and incredible that this movie is still relevant 33 years after the original release. This is a movie that will remain culturally important as long as hate and bigotry are a part of our culture.

I am giving “Do the Right Thing” five out of five stars.