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This film looks at life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn on a hot summer Sunday. As he does everyday, Sal Fragione opens the pizza parlor he's owned for 25 years. The neighborhood has changed considerably in the time he's been there and is now composed primarily of African-Americans and Hispanics. His son Pino hates it there and would like nothing better than to relocate the eatery to their own neighborhood. For Sal however, the restaurant represents something that is part of his life and sees it as a part of the community. What begins as a simple complaint by one of his customers, Buggin Out - who wonders why he has only pictures of famous Italian-Americans on the wall when most of his customers are black - eventually disintegrates into violence as frustration seemingly brings out the worst in everyone. Written by
In all likelihood Spike Lee's most important achievement - as director, writer and actor (though to my taste Mo' Better Blues is just as good a picture) and one of the strongest films you'll see about race relations, 'Do The Right Thing' looks dated at times, but it lost none of its impact and relevance. The movie takes place in a particularly hot day in a primarily African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, and follows the various personalities who live there throughout the day; the center of the story is Sal's Famous Pizzeria - its owners, some of the few white people living in the neighborhood: Sal (Oscar nominated performance for Danny Aiello) and his two sons (John Torturro and Richard Edson), and Mookie (Spike Lee himself), the black delivery boy. What starts out as a light, entertaining movie with some amusing characters and light humor, gradually builds up tension to the point of being unbearable, up to the dramatic and tragic climax. Spike doesn't put as much emphasis on the characters themselves as he does on the relationships and the tension between them; and in this image of a very specific and small frame in time and place, makes a strong and important message about racism and race relations in general. The film is populated with many different characters, all of them very memorable and each one a representative of a certain belief, mode of behavior or state of mind - on both sides of the conflict. From the uninhibited anger of Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) and Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) on one side and Pino (John Torturro) on the other side, to Jade (Joie Lee, Spike's sister in the film and in real life) and Vito (Richard Edson), who are trying to connect and live at peace with the other side, to Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), in his isolated but peaceful state of mind, living in complete peace with the world around him, and Smiley (Roger Smith), living in his own isolated existence. Then there's Mookie, who is stuck in the middle, torn between his commitment and responsibilities to both sides. Finally we have Mister Senor Love Daddy
played gorgeously by the one and only Samuel L. Jackson, in one of
his finest performances - half active character and half all-knowing narrator - who represents the voice of reason in the conflict, the reason which is bound, ultimately, to collapse. Each and every character plays an important part in the climatic and dramatic conflict to which the movie builds up, and though it's the radical ones - Buggin Out and Radio Raheem - who trigger the events that cause the tragedy, they are not necessarily the ones who finish it. It is Mookie and Sal, in fact, who ultimately play the main part.
Do The Right Thing is not an easy watch; it's a mesmerizing, tense, difficult film that breaks many taboos and slaughters many holy cows. But in the end of it - hopefully - you'll be wiser than you were in the beginning, and that's what Lee have always tried to achieve in all his films. Watch it to get a real view on racism that doesn't duck the difficult issues and isn't afraid to tackle the real problem, and to see a master director at work. It's one of the best films of its time.
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