A talented filmmaker can elevate the temperature of the climate to character status in a film. Winter-based movies such as “Doctor Zhivago” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” can make you shiver. And summer-based films can make you sweat. In his 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” Spike Lee documents the impact a brutally hot day can have on an already embattled group who share an underserved urban neighborhood.
“Do the Right Thing” is set in New York City. It is set over the course of one humid day when several characters let their tempers get the best of them. Lee plays Mookie, an unambitious father who contributes some financial support to his girlfriend and their child by working at a pizzeria in Brooklyn. A fixture in the largely black neighborhood, the pizzeria is run by Sal (played by Danny Aiello) and his sons: Vito (played by Richard Edson) and Pino (played by John Turturro). Vito is a likeable guy, but Pino has nothing but contempt for the neighborhood and its residents. Tensions rise when Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito), accuses Sal of being racist for only showing photos of famous Italians in his restaurant. Infatuated with Black Nationalist sensibilities, he feels that since it is a mostly African-American neighborhood, Sal should include photos of famous black people. Another important character is Radio Raheem (played by Bill Nunn), who walks around with the music on his boom box turned up loud.
“Do the Right Thing” features a well-written screenplay by Lee, which earned an Oscar nomination. All of the characters are flawed, but none are truly evil, and the heat brings out their worst sides.
The cast is terrific. In addition to strong work directing and writing the film, Lee also gives a solid performance. We see that Mookie is self-centered since he often takes time off work when he should be on the clock. Danny Aiello earned an Oscar nomination for is equally impressive work as Sal. Another memorable performance is by Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a local radio DJ, who is often angry at the racism he sees in the neighborhood. Fans of Ossie Davis and the recently deceased Ruby Dee will enjoy seeing the veterans in supporting roles.
“Do the Right Thing” is often celebrated on lists of the best movies of the 20th century and is worth seeing by any movie fan.