Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)


Just make sure you never ask Pino what the right thing is, I don’t think you’ll like the answer. Or maybe you will, in which case I don’t know what to say!

Written By: Spike Lee
Directed By: Spike Lee

Do The Right Thing is yet another movie where the story doesn’t matter as much as the themes being discussed. In all actuality there isn’t much of a story in Do The Right Thing, the weather is hot and tempers escalate until violence and racially motivated crimes spew forth. This is both a strength and a weakness of Do The Right Thing. It’s adherence to a theme first narrative means the theme is loud and clear, but it also means that when the “event” of the film occurs we aren’t as emotionally invested in the characters as we could be. The event caused quite a stir back in 1989, as did the film in general. Personally I didn’t find it as controversial or provocative as I did an exercise in racial messaging. I can understand why it was controversial or provocative in 1989 because at that point in time racism was very much in the closet. Nowadays that isn’t the case as much, it still isn’t as out in the open as it needs to be, but people are more observant of everything race involved these days.

While Spike Lee’s in for a second out a second later style of character reveal is catchy and does help the pace of the film to remain fast and in your face, it also never leaves you with an idea of the true nature of the neighborhood. Unfortunately I felt like I knew far more about the outsiders in Sal and his sons than I ever did about any of the actual residents of that street. There were plenty of great characters, Radio Raheem, Da Mayor, the entire Sweet Dick Willie gang, but we were never given enough time with any of them for any sort of lasting impact to be made. This is due mostly to Lee’s penchant for a large colorful cast, and while that means a lot of interesting characters are present, we don’t get to know them as well as we should.

But, for its faults the main issue tackled in Do The Right Thing is also where it flexes the most artistic muscle. The issue of race is handled to near perfection in Do The Right Thing, the only thing missing would be the corollary issue of drugs and race. Lee makes sure to never take any sort of stand, there are no heroes or villains, no one is right and everyone ends up being wrong to a certain extent. Radio Raheem should turn down his music when in Sal’s, but at the same time Sal should ask him nicely as opposed to shouting at him about it. That distinction isn’t based on race, but it is necessary to understand the catalyst for the final act. In the end frustrations are let out, violence ensues, and nothing is solved and very little is learned. Racism makes idiots of everyone, and it made an idiot of every character in Do The Right Thing.

I’m not a huge Spike Lee fan and I found Do The Right Thing to fall along the same lines as the rest of his work. A colorful, well written film that handles its theme well, but fails to make an impact through its characters or story. The music is great, just so I don’t forget to mention that. Do The Right Thing is the opposite of typical Hollywood race movies, it doesn’t hit you over the head with the idea of racism, rather it builds and builds over the course of the film. If you are looking for a far more subtle and less pretentious take on racism then Do The Right Thing is certainly for you, just make sure not to take your advice from Pino.




2 responses to “Review: Do The Right Thing (1989)

  1. I agree with 3/4 of your review. 1 more star and we would have been on the same page. A shame.

  2. I can’t always please you Edgar, I do try though, oh, do I try!

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