- Gareth Crook
Do the Right Thing (1989)
One of Spike Lee’s most revered outings, the 80s Classic ‘Do The Right Thing’. I always thought it felt more 90s, but it was probably just ahead of its time or I was a few years late. Anyway enough of that, it’s too hot for picky details. It’s a scorcher y’see in Brooklyn. Sal (Danny Aiello) and his son Pino (John Turturro) own an Italian American pizza shop, have done for years (the ethnicity is important). The neighbourhood around them has changed though, now predominantly Black. It doesn’t bother Sal, well not much. He’s a proud man, hard working, happy with his place in the world. Pino though, like a lot of the cast is younger and more volatile. It might be a hot day, but this film is cool. Packed with a cast of cool characters. Realistic characters, serious, but fun, full of life. It feels like play, one carefully crafted set piece after another and it’s bright! Loud and colourful, it really is a visual treat. Anyway back to Sal’s. An unrecognisable Giancarlo Esposito, playing the brilliantly named Buggin’ Out asks “Why aren’t there any brothers on the wall” referencing Sal’s photo collection ‘Wall of Fame’ featuring Italian Americans only. Mookie (Spike Lee), who works there smoothes things over after the inevitable argument, but it sets the tone. The whole thing is brilliantly soundtracked by a combination of DJ Samuel L Jackson broadcasting from the block and Radio Raheem a imposing lad who stalks the streets with the biggest boombox you’ve ever seen. Everything though has a sense of potential unrest. A fire hydrant fountain cooling kids off in the street, turns into an altercation with a very young looking Frank Vincent after getting his convertible soaked. There’s jealousy over the successful Korean business on the corner and the volume of Kareem blasting out Public Enemy winding up those that aren’t fans. They’re undercurrents, signposting exactly where this is headed. This has to be one of the sweatiest films I can think of, the heat is rising and do the tensions. Everything works in harmony for a time, as long as everyone stays right where they are. It’s a powder keg through, the smallest inconsequential events threatening to ignite the the fuse. That fuse is lit by the last person you’d expect, but the result is all too familiar. Riots and police brutality we’ve all sadly become so accustomed to. Friendships are abandoned in the heat of the moment and lives are destroyed. Lee paints a vivid picture, this put him on the map and although his subsequent films haven’t always been great, when he hits the mark it’s always worth a watch and over 3 decades on Do The Right Thing is more relevant than ever.