Montreal Film Journal

DO THE RIGHT THING

In 1998, the American Film Institute released a list of the 100 best American films of all times. The list was baloney, including not that great films while forgetting true masterpieces. If there's one film that should really have been on the list, it's Spike Lee's brilliant "Do The Right Thing", the best film by blacks about blacks ever made. That proves how racism is still present in America, when one of the greatest films in the last 30 years ain't rewarded just because it's controversial.

This film takes place on one day. One hot goddamn day. Not just everyday, but still just some day. Mookie is a black delivery boy for Sal, an Italian who runs a pizzeria with his 2 sons in Brooklyn. That brings some tension in the hood since this shallow white man doesn't even respect the Blacks who buy his pizzas. Sal ain't really racist: he did give a job to Mookie, and he has a thing for his light-skinned sister. Still, he doesn't treat Afro-Americans overall like he treats whites. For example, there's a hall of fame in his restaurant showcasing different American people like Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino and John Travolta... They're all respected stars and, well, they're all white. No Martin Luther King, no Malcolm X. That might seem like no biggie, but hey, this is in a black ghetto! That's one of the things that make this day even more heated. There's also Radio Raheem who can't even listen to his Public Enemy tape without being ordered to turn it down. There's something in the air, and people know this day might end on a sour note...

The film's themes might be political, but don't think this is a tedious, serious drama. Spike Lee fills his film with colorful characters and there is even some humor. In fact, this might be the ultimate summer movie. The heat is almost a character in the film. Yet this is an emotional, thought-provoking film, as well as a brilliantly directed picture. It's riveting from start to end. Lee's visual style is great, but mostly, you can feel that these are issues he knows and cares a lot about. Lee is also an excellent actor, and his performance is both restrained and powerful. Mookie is a regular Joe, but he's still an endearing, three-dimensional character that almost jumps out of the screen. His girlfriend is played by the hilariously bitchy Rosie Perez, who's as gorgeous as she's talented. Samuel L. Jackson plays the local DJ who's kind of used like a Greek chorus through the film. As always, Jackson is a real cool mofo.

There are many other great yet little-known black actors in the cast, and then there are the Italians. Sal is portrayed by the always convincing Danny Aiello, who delivers an intense, nuanced performance. Spike Lee doesn't make the mistake of turning him into an all-out bad guy. Sal is flawed, but he's still human, even sympathetic. His son is a different story. Played by the great John Turturro, Pino is a macho, hateful man who really has a beef against Blacks, yet he loves Prince, Michael Jordan and Eddie Murphy. How hypocritical is that? You see, that's the great thing about this film. It's social commentary, yet it doesn't go too far and forget about common sense. Lee has a problem with certain attitudes, but that doesn't mean he hates white people. His message is simple and logical: live and let live. Some said the film was militant, but they're missing the point. This ain't a movie about revolt, it's about tolerance. This movie ain't just any movie. Watching it is a very moving experience, and the finale is absolutely breath-taking. You can't afford not to see this modern masterpiece.