This film looks at life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn on a hot summer Sunday. As he does everyday, Sal Fragione opens the pizza parlor he's owned for 25 years. The neighborhood has changed considerably in the time he's been there and is now composed primarily of African-Americans and Hispanics. His son Pino hates it there and would like nothing better than to relocate the eatery to their own neighborhood. For Sal however, the restaurant represents something that is part of his life and sees it as a part of the community. What begins as a simple complaint by one of his customers, Buggin Out - who wonders why he has only pictures of famous Italian-Americans on the wall when most of his customers are black - eventually disintegrates into violence as frustration seemingly brings out the worst in everyone. Written by
90% of Spike Lee's masterpiece Do the Right Thing is a perfectly developed character study of a wide range of model personalities who all happen to be in Bedford-Stuyvesant on the hottest day of the summer. What the other ten percent consists of you will have to discover for yourself.
This ingenious film explores extremes, but never gives itself over to stereotypes as its plot cleverly navigates through the politics of inner city life and the struggles of American racism. As an artful and intelligent examination of the ethics of violence and prejudice, Do the Right Thing is unparalleled. It implies a simple profound question - what is the 'right thing'? But steadfastly refuses to supply even a hint of an answer - appropriately leaving its central point entirely up to its audience. Instead, the film points to a different, perhaps more important question "Whose version of right is right for you?" There are a lot of good people, a lot of bad people, and a very realistic majority of people who are usually somewhere in the middle but also somewhat confused throughout this film. African American, Latino, East Asian and Italian American cultures form the dynamics of the relationships that drive the story, and conflict is their medium. Drawing from two incisive but different comments on violence from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Lee extrapolates his story and the ideas he wants to explore by showing us characters that are as real as they are exaggerated and somewhat unpredictable events that they create, are swept into or actively or passively participate in. Although the point of the film is not really critique, nobody is left unscathed.
I am not going to tell you what the film says - I can't, because it is, more than most films dealing in such a direct manner with the subject of race, open to interpretation. And what you bring to it will influence, but not determine what you take away from it. It is just that powerful.
Instead, I will simply give Do the Right Thing my highest recommendation.
Superbly written, edited, directed and filmed. Well acted (Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosie Perez, Spike Lee and Richard Edson really stood out for me) and very nicely soundscaped, Do the Right Thing is the perfect film for a solitary night of reflection or for sharing with an intelligent group of friends. However, be forewarned, the film hits hard, and will disturb some people a great deal - especially those who feel a need for closure and resolution.
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