Sunday, January 3, 2010

#403: Do The Right Thing (1989)

Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro & Ossie Davis

A heat wave has taken control of Brooklyn in the late 1980's, and as the steam rises, it uncovers the worst in the inhabitants of what used to be a friendly block. Originally a black community, now Italian-Americans, Koreans, and Hispanics have moved in, and the tension between the races becomes more apparent over time. Things begin to boil over when an African-American walks into a popular Italian-American-owned pizzeria and notices that its "Wall of Fame" features only white celebrities. While at first nobody joins in the fight to boycott the pizzeria, anger slowly spreads from various sources, ending in disaster.

The greatest question that arises in this film comes straight from the title: what is the right thing? When an elderly man tells one of the main characters to do the right thing, it gets shrugged off. Everyone intends to do the right thing, but if everyone has a different idea of what the right thing is, what then?

This could be considered a character piece, with each character being thoroughly different from the next, though never fully caricaturized. In the first scene, a radio DJ mentions that the weather is hot, but the color of the day is black. He recommends that everyone wears black in the sun today to absorb the heat and save it for winter. Certainly, everyone in the cast has absorbed some heat from their anger, though each releases it in different ways.

The filming of this was really remarkable. The opening scenes of the block are so vibrant, celebrating the diversity of the neighborhood, while the end is a horrific counterpoint. Somehow, though, the entire film maintains a red-orange lighting.

The acting is all wonderful, though it must've been made a little easier with such a remarkable script. Spike Lee could easily be the next Arthur Miller or Neil Simon. The film seems to exude American culture, demonstrating its accomplishments and its detriments.

Brilliant, brilliant movie with so much to read into. I would highly recommend this, with a caution that you have to be ready to be hit hard. This will definitely be among my top films so far when I renumber the first 100 I've watched.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
This film was inspired by an actual incident in New York where some black youths were chased out of a pizzeria by some white youths in a section of New York known as Howard Beach.
The story takes place at the intersection of Bedford and Stuyvesant Avenues. In reality, the two do not cross each other, however the film was shot in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama reportedly saw this movie on their first date in 1989.
The title comes from a Malcolm X quote: "You've got to do the right thing."

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