In honor of BlacKkKlansman getting great reviews, and praising Spike Lee’s direction, people praising the film as “His best ever”, to which I have to ask, “Was it the film that established Lee’s footprint on the cinematic landscape, garnered Oscar nominations, and established a new wave of African-American directors, unseen since the Blaxploitation era of the 70s?” No, so Do the Right Thing still stands as the flagbearer of his directorial career; and since I’m the site’s catalog title critic, I’m here to ask: “Is Do the Right Thing still a great movie almost 30 years later?” The answer is a resounding Yes.
I’m not going to do a plot analysis, so I’ll do what a real film critic and talk about what works. First off, this is a film of with a directorial vision, Lee’s directorial style in Do The Right Thing, is undeniably unique; several times, the film eschews the 180 degrees rule, for POV shots, a unique concept that works as: a, talking to a character, or b: talking to the audience.
Mind you; this leads to Lee’s cinematic sins, every director has them, some more obvious than others. Lee’s core cinematic sin is the lack of subtlety; his films are loud and outspoken, filled with a revolutionary zeal; that is both infectious and disquieting. My thoughts on cinematic sins is a relatively simple one: it only becomes a problem if it affects the quality of the film. Thankfully, that core sin didn’t bring down Do The Right Thing.
This brings us to the acting, which is excellent. Character actors like Danny Aiello, the late Ossie Davis, John Turturro, and the late Ruby Dee, put on great performances, even actors that I had never heard were putting on phenomenal performances (one of the biggest surprises was the late Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem, a character who says little, yet carries massive plot importance). The film also featured pre-fame appearances of Giancarlo Esposito (pre-Breaking Bad), a pre-Nick Fury (and pre-Jules Winfield) Samuel L. Jackson, and even Nunn was pre-fame (he’d later be cast as Robbie Robertson in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films). Of course, I’m leaving out the main character: Lee himself; he is quite good in his performance. Generally, I would be criticizing a director starring in a film he directed if his performance was terrible, yet Lee portrays Mookie (and the film itself) with a sense of honesty and fairness. So, when events hit the fan, it’s represented in a surprisingly accurate manner.
One final thing of note was the use of Greek choruses. Lee uses at least two different Greek choruses during the film; the three African-American gentlemen commenting on the actions and Samuel L. Jackson’s DJ character; both serve this important dramatic purpose. Why did I bring this up? One, you don’t see many Greek choruses in cinema nowadays, let alone two in the same film.
In conclusion, Do the Right Thing, is still a great film. Even though parts of the film have dated, the film more than makes up for it, in strong writing, brilliant performances, and a unique directorial effort by Lee. In short, Do the Right Thing, was the film that Lee needed to put his mark on the medium.