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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.27%
Average: 0.92%
Pretty Bad: 2.75%
Total Crap: 5.5%

7 reviews, 67 user ratings

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Do the Right Thing
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Slyder

"As timeless as your favorite Molotov cocktail bottle"
5 stars

In 1989, a young promising filmmaker named Spike Lee, fresh off the success of his independent feature “She’s Gotta Have It”, decided to capitalize on his recent carte blanche offered by Universal. After the misfire of “School Daze”, Lee proceeded to construct this remarkable and decidedly provocative and incendiary film which sent shivers down the spine off many film critics whom feared that this movie could incite race riots. Alas, that never happened. What DID happen however was the fact that the movie arguably raised for the first time ever public awareness regarding the racial divide that still existed at that time in the late 80s and still does so today. True, the happenings of the 60s which climaxed with the aftermath of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was well and truly documented, but the new generations of Americans only knew about what they were told by their relatives, what they read on history books and what they saw on the street; and that is if they even got close to one of them hoods. Do the Right Thing showed a no-holds-barred slice of life of how racial tensions are simmering (in this case, in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood) in several places all over the US, and how a spark of a rather ridiculous situation that was blown out of proportions can have devastating consequences. Cinematically speaking, Do the Right Thing was a revolutionary film. From then on, black cinema would never be the same again, and every single film made by black filmmakers now had a lot more to live up to. No more stereotypes to be raked upon and no more blaxploitation flicks that were made for mere entertaining purposes. Lee provided proof positive that the medium of film could be used for direct social commentary amongst his people and soon, a wave of imitators and followers appeared in his wake, from John Singleton to the Hughes Brothers to even Lee’s own cinematographer at the time, Ernest Dickerson. Fast forward 20 years onwards and it hasn’t aged one bit, it still packs a gigantic punch and it WILL deliver it to you whether you’re ready for it or not.

There are very few films in which you could say that they stay with you and force you to think and to debate and appreciate what you just saw. I first heard of this film back in University around 2002, but never had the chance to see it until I rented a copy from the University Library a few months later. When I finished watching the film, I was completely fucked over, white-knuckled, confused, wondering what the hell did I just watch. It was a film that punched me in the gut and slapped me in the face like no other film has had before or since. From then on, I spend the last 7 years and multiple viewings later wondering what the hell did I just saw, and more importantly, what was the right thing that was implied in the title? It was not an easy task (in fact, my dad and I still discuss the merits of this movie to this very day). What WAS clear however was that there were no easy answers…

What starts and looks like a simple ensemble comedy about a day in the life of the citizens of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood for ¾ of its running time hides an ugly and nasty side underneath which suddenly makes its presence known in full-force by the time the film reaches its climatic point. Yet it’s always been there, amongst the laughs, the jokes, and snide remarks, and the clever and funny as hell dialogue; it IS there. Mookie (Spike Lee) is an irresponsible youth with a kid and a Hispanic girlfriend (Rosie Perez) working as a delivery boy at Sal’s Pizzeria, where Sal (Danny Aiello) has been selling pizza to the Bed-Stuy neighborhood for the last 25 years, yet Pino (John Turturro), the eldest of Sal’s two sons, isn’t necessarily thrilled to be working there; he hates the place and hates the “animals” and the niggers that he has to deal with. Vito (Richard Edson), the youngest, can’t see what the big fuzz is and tries to get along to the chagrin of his brother. Pino and Mookie are always verbally confronting each other, up to the point that Mookie scoffs at the hypocrisy of Pino regarding his listing of several black celebrities as his favorite artists/sportsmen, triggering a mahoosive barrage of insults from both sides, to which then Hispanics (from Puerto Rico in this one), Irish and even Koreans take potshots at each other’s race (Koreans take shots at the Jewish community, unrepresented here).

The racism of Pino is at direct counterpart to the other crucial recurring characters in the film, Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) and Radio Raheem (Bill Dodd), both who happen to be friends of Mookie. Buggin’ Out gets “irritated” by the fact that there are no Blacks featured in Sal’s Wall of Fame which contains predictably Italian Americans, and attempts to initiate a boycott on the basis of racism. After failing to incite the rest of the community, he manages to enlist Radio Raheem, who got the name due to his very loud boom box which plays continually the Public Enemy song “Fight the Power” (which serves as the film's recurring leitmotif), therefore gaining full attention of anyone that gets in his way; Buggin also enlist stuttering Smiley (Roger Guneveru Smith) to join his cause. From then on, the stage is set for a fateful night that would lead from one disaster to another.

Surrounding the main story is a well developed cast of characters both old and young that thrive and interact all over the neighborhood, notably an old drunkard who calls himself Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), who despite his faults is a goodhearted individual and by films end the largely-ignored voice of conscience of the neighborhood. Also in the mix are a trio of old guys (ML – Paul Benjamin, Sweet Dick Willie – Robin Harris, and Coconut Sid – Frankie Faison) whom spend their entire day arguing from politics, to global warming, and finally wondering aloud how they never managed to set up a business of their own, in their own neighborhood in all this time, yet the neighboring Koreans managed to set up one in less than a year. This insight of history by these three characters is actually a very important piece of info regarding the plot; because it gives you a background regarding how far back does the problem of racism goes. It’s so embedded within the community thanks to the history of exploitation and oppression that exists between blacks (and Hispanics for that matter) and whites, that it has generated a sense of mistrust and disdain between the races. There is no pacific coexistence; instead, everyone minds their own race and favors their own, and immediately stand against anyone else that is of different race or color, even if they were born in the same neighborhood.

This attitude is hinted and underlined in several sequences. We see the cops stare unabashedly at the aforementioned old guy trio. Buggin Out taking offence and insulting a local white guy (John Savage) simply because he stepped in his “Air Jordans”, with the rest of the young mob throwing in their support. Mookie’s sister flirting around with Sal to the wrathful eye of his older brother and of Pino as well (this scene is probably a precursor to Lee’s future film Jungle Fever). And finally Radio Raheem rudely imposing his own brand of music over a group of Puerto Ricans and their music (interestingly, they’re playing Ruben Blades, the musical equivalent of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen combined in Latino music, and a fierce proponent of equal rights during his entire career), and later on Radio Raheem insulting the Korean couple in front of their kid at their store while impatiently asking for “20 ‘D’ size batteries, motherfucker; learn to speak English, motherfucker!”

In fact, the character of Radio Raheem is like a walking cipher which gets blown wherever the wind blows, for he has such a extreme lopsided attitude regarding love and hate, that it mirror-images the very same attitude an ignorant man has regarding racism, you love and protect the ones of your own race, and you hate and try to put down whichever outsider gets in the way of one, no matter if the one from your own race is actually in the wrong. Of course, a dumbass thug like Buggin Out takes advantage of Raheem’s ignorance and lopsidedness and both head to set off the climatic showdown between them and Sal. And in the end, despite the fact that Sal’s Famous Pizzeria has been around for 25 years, the black people (and Hispanics) immediately forget that aforementioned fact once the skirmish results in the death of a black man, and like clockwork, instead of blaming it on the Police officers themselves who choke-holded the poor bastard to death, they blame it and vent themselves on the lone white man on the neighborhood.

In all this kerfuffle, the immediate question that arrives while watching of course is: “What is the right thing? Who did the right thing? Did anyone?” And this is where things get really murky, because it is hard to understand what the right thing is. The fact that Mookie, or should we say, the director of this movie throws a trash can through the window of his own job had a lot of people accusing Lee of racism and bigotry (is doing the right thing starting a riot?). Those people however are largely missing the point; when Mookie throws the trash can, he’s simply favoring his own race, either due to peer pressure or because of genuine feeling of hatred at the fact that his friend has been killed, and as a result everyone follows suit. The closest thing to a hero in the film is actually Da Mayor because he’s the only one who is consciously trying to defuse the situation and also saves Sal, Pino and Vito from getting lynched when the riot well and truly starts. Earlier in the movie, Da Mayor tells Mookie to “always do the right thing”, and yet despite this, he ends up doing the wrong thing… for the right reasons. I say right reasons because despite the pussy-mongering of a few liberals, if the people that are suppose to enforce the law, break it instead and do more harm than good, then it’s within the people’s rights to rise up against that form of injustice. It’s just too bad that the people instead of rising against those responsible, they decided to rise against the closest white guy available. This scenario is of course the reason why the famous two quotes from both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X that are shown at the end of the movie. Both are contradictory true, but then again, nothing in life IS black and white. Violence is wrong, but if you are wronged by the people who claim to be upholders of the law, then that law ceases to be law, and a violent uprising will more than likely be the only solution.

It’s truly a shame that due to those racial barriers, it blinded people from their common sense and prevented them from seeing the utter thuggery of assholes like Buggin Out and Radio Raheem, as well as providing a nurture for such a racist viewpoints in Pino (all three despite being from different color, are cut from the same cloth of hate). There’s no heroism in Mookie’s actions either and his attitude in the aftermath underlines the fact that he’s just another irresponsible and moronic punk. Lee’s such a clever bloke however at casting himself as Mookie, because by doing so, everyone in the audience (me included) figured that he was going to preach to us and show us the audience what the right thing was, and he just ends up doing the exact opposite. Truly a brilliant move (and the best performance that Lee has given in his career so far), and of course, that forces us of course to think deeper into this matter of “what the right thing is”. Sal’s case is quite an interesting one, for Lee sees him as a racist, while Danny Aiello (who plays him) doesn’t, and I tend to side with Aiello on this one; many people forget that during the confrontation Buggin Out called Sal a “fucking guinea”, and as we all know, “guinea” is a derogatory term for Italians, so of course Sal is going to fire back and call Buggin Out a “nigger,” because he’s simply returning the favor (biggest and funniest irony in the movie, apart from the title itself, is that Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Buggin Out, is actually Italian American). True, Sal has a short fuse, and that doesn’t help his cause, however, a simple swear word doesn’t make you a racist, but rather your actions and your general attitude regarding the people that you interact with. Aiello kicks ass in the role, and is unquestionably the best work that he’s ever done, for he displays ferocious intensity and honesty, and also despairs at the fact that he himself is at times powerless to solve these never-ending conflicts between his multi-racial employees and customers.

There’s a ton of memorable characters, but apart from Lee and Aiello as Mookie and Sal, the other standouts in the film are John Turturro as Pino, for he shows in the screen a never-ending sense of rage and fury against blacks, and his confrontation with his fellow brother Pino is truly a memorable one. Ossie Davis as Da Mayor, he was fun to watch and memorable as well, since it’s too bad that his advices and warnings fall on deaf ears, but at least he earns the respect from long time derider Mother Sister (Ruby Dee). Everyone in this movie was great, and some even do career best work here. Honorable mention goes to Samuel L. Jackson as Mister Senior Love Daddy, the love-totting DJ of the local radio station (another irony is here, considering Jackson would later symbolize the epitome of cool tough motherfuckers).

Cinematically it’s also perfect, Ernest Dickerson shoots in hot colors accentuating the heat that predates the whole neighborhood, and the use of talking head shots is perfectly well executed and never over done, giving you the impression that rather than talking to the other characters, they'e actually talking, and arguing with you. Lee’s direction has never been better, and his passion for making this film is clearly evident on the screen.

It’s just a shame however, that the Oscars were so fucking incompetent or afraid to actually give this movie the credit it deserved. Only two nominations for Aiello’s work and for Lee’s screenplay (he lost to Dead FUCKING Poets Society) and zero for Lee’s direction or for Best Picture; proof positive that the Academy more often than not is a travesty of an awards show rather than a legitimate institution, but what the hell? It’s nothing new anyhow.

Of course, we still haven’t figured out what the right thing is. Allow me to tell you what I believe the right thing is. Doing the right thing is to treat people as equals to you, and not as people of different races. Doing the right thing is to break down the stereotypes and to start living as a true community. Doing the right thing is to help your neighbor, not isolate yourself in your own prejudices. Doing the right thing is to rise against racism itself and not against your fellow brother just because of his skin color. This is the message that I understood from this movie, and 20 years onwards, this message still prevails, because the problem still prevails. It’s a call to all people of all nations and all races to think and be aware and conscious, to wake up and face these problems with real solutions, not through knee-jerk actions. Remember what the Korean store owner shouted as he tried to defend his property and his family from the mob; words that probably saved his life: “You… me… same!” No truer words have ever been spoken. 5-5

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originally posted: 01/10/10 15:42:37
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell preachy but potent & honest a ticking timebomb indeed 4 stars
9/20/17 Ken Spike Lee's magnum opus. 5 stars
4/28/12 Dennis Justin Do the Right Thing...Don't avoid seeing this film. 5 stars
3/16/12 stanley welles do the right thing ... avoid this mess 1 stars
3/03/11 chris c A ticking time bomb of hate explodes during the summer of '89: nobody follows the title 5 stars
3/10/10 Richard Brandt Hard-charging, right-headed film about wrong-headed people 5 stars
5/23/09 Jeff Wilder Spike Lee's best film. The movie that Crash tried to be. 5 stars
4/30/09 Vince One of the worst movies of all time. Contradicts itself a lot & lousy characters all over 1 stars
5/19/08 jointz The fact that DTRT has filmgoers debating to this day truly speaks for its brilliance. 5 stars
7/06/07 fools♫gold Chill! So this isn't the greatest user review. 100000000000000000000000000000000000% 5 stars
6/14/07 William Goss Moderately heavy-handed and preachy, but important nonetheless. 4 stars
12/05/06 David Cohen Preachy, hypocritical and why the @#$! are people talking to the camera? 2 stars
4/28/06 mike jones spike looks awefully funny with his chicken legs 4 stars
3/02/06 Geoffrey D. Holman /Priest Spike Lee is one of the industries finest writers and directors.... 5 stars
12/12/05 daniel absolute masterpiece 5 stars
12/09/05 Bianca Goodin Loved it, the movie really makes people think 5 stars
8/06/05 Zack No comment 5 stars
7/07/05 Isaac Baranoff GREAT MOVIE! 5 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands One of the most brilliantly realistic movies of all time. 5 stars
5/28/05 Weltner Anti-White,black racist propaganda.Whitey racist,blacks totally innocent.Go to hell,spike! 1 stars
12/27/04 mjoc Spiek Lee rearing his ugly racist head!! Bad movie! 1 stars
9/08/04 R.W. Welch Innovative style and camera work portray bad day in the hood. Solid acting. 4 stars
7/18/04 scrambled brain one of the best movies *ever*, and i'm not even a spike lee fan 5 stars
6/22/04 T. Maj The best film of the 80s; unforgettable 5 stars
2/18/04 john a powerful and thoughtful film - very well made 5 stars
12/09/03 CLear Day Many Layers, Several Stories, Anyone who would call this film RACIST is likely to be one! 5 stars
8/21/03 Goofy Maxwell Spike's riotous "mob" movie...reminds me of A Bronx Tale;drama 'bout race hate can alienate 5 stars
7/16/03 cochese Spike Lee is a racist, bigot, who should be ostracized, but hes not...cause hes black. 1 stars
6/02/03 Ana very good 4 stars
5/17/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back Mo'Fos!) Possibly the most truthful fucking movie of all time, Hi, KMG. Assholes. 5 stars
12/08/02 Frank Cobbina A must-see movie 5 stars
10/27/02 Mr. Hat Brilliant social commentary and nice music, acting, directing, and writing. 4 stars
10/24/02 Charles Tatum Spike ran out of ideas and threw a trash can through a window 2 stars
10/09/02 Kitfo Aristotle would have approved. 5 stars
7/28/02 Butterbean I appreciate this movie as I grow older. I wish Spike would make more non-racial movies. 4 stars
7/27/02 I Can't Swim I can't believe the amount of children that post their SHITE here! Movie is great! 5 stars
7/22/02 The Man KMG and Hi need to be put down, though some characters are racist, the film is not.Flawless 5 stars
4/23/02 KMG How is doing the right thing trashing a pizza parlor, Spike, you racist turd!? 2 stars
3/31/02 hi what a niggerfestival 1 stars
1/22/02 anju it was a good makes you think about the things that are happening in real life 4 stars
12/21/01 John Linton Roberson The key: there is no "hero". Still a great film; could be a play. 5 stars
12/04/01 Alphonso Harrell I think that Lee is a great director and he is attacking issues of racism on both sides 5 stars
8/19/01 Edwin Menguin Spike Lee is a crap actor, it would have been better without him 4 stars
4/24/01 BGuha It was a educational and interesting flick. It showed everyday life. 5 stars
3/26/01 shannon leigh excellant movie, spike lee's best 5 stars
1/14/01 rita I had to make a review on it. 5 stars
6/15/00 Elvisfan Spike's only masterpiece - now & forever 5 stars
5/09/00 macdaddy willy this was the s*&t 5 stars
2/22/00 Jedi I really liked this movie, but the ending bothered me 5 stars
1/30/00 Mic Do the right thing - watch this film (although I HATE Rosie Perez). 4 stars
1/29/00 JonnyAngel I wasn't really feeling it, but definatly worth a look 4 stars
12/04/99 Saket Narula One of Lee's greatest movies.DTRT asks you to decide what the Right Thing Is? War OR Peace. 5 stars
10/11/99 Weird Andy Doesn't live up to the hype. Some excellent performances, though. 3 stars
8/20/99 Japtalian Spike Lee at his best. Everyone should see this movie. 5 stars
6/25/99 David Keech Great film, and great cast. I like how Lee lets us decide who did the right thing. 5 stars
6/15/99 Dylan Spike Lees 2nd best movie (after Malcolm X). 5 stars
5/29/99 Bob, Lord of Evil The question is; Does Lee know who did the right thing himself? 5 stars
5/03/99 The Bomb 69 thought provoking, something wasn't quite right though 4 stars
2/02/99 Vick Di Brecci Kinda simplistic, corny at times, very nice atmosphere, great moments & overall look 4 stars
11/30/98 Mr.Pink Not the masterpiece that many people think it is, but still a good film. 4 stars
11/27/98 broku a movie that actually makes you think. who did the right thing 5 stars
11/12/98 Lord Of The Dunce Had such high hopes for Spike after this movie. It's just breathtaking. 5 stars
10/18/98 Kwyjibo Sensational filmmaking. If only Spike had followed this path instead of cashing up. 5 stars
10/15/98 Bluntman PERFECT! BRILLIANT! YES!!!!! 5 stars
10/10/98 {{{OZ}}} M-m-m-m-m-MOOOKIE!! Great characters, great flick, great look, awesome film. 5 stars
10/10/98 Nate Dogg Definately Spike's best piece 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1989 (R)


  02-Jul-1989 (M)

Directed by
  Spike Lee

Written by
  Spike Lee

  Danny Aiello
  Ossie Davis
  Ruby Dee
  Richard Edson
  John Turturro
  Spike Lee

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