Director Spike Lee dives head-first into a maelstrom of racial and social ills, using as his springboard the hottest day of the year on one block in Brooklyn, NY. Three businesses dominate the block: a storefront radio station, where a smooth-talkin' deejay (Samuel L. Jackson) spins the platters that matter; a convenience store owned by a Korean couple; and Sal's Famous Pizzeria, the only white-operated business in the neighborhood. Sal (Danny Aiello) serves up slices with his two sons, genial Vito (Richard Edson) and angry, racist Pino (John Turturro). Sal has one black employee, Mookie (Spike Lee), who wants to "get paid" but lacks ambition.
This is one of the best films of the '80s. In fact, I find it hard to come up with a film from that last 25 years that's more important than Do the Right Thing. Future filmmakers: Please take a look at this film. It's one of the few entertaining films that also has a very important social commentary - something many filmmakers attempt, but often find difficult or simply fail at. Spike Lee is at his best in this film, as it ends with many more questions than answers, which sometimes leads to the better endings.
'Fight the Power' is the theme song of this film, as it plays throughout the movie on the character Radio Raheem's jukebox. Spike Lee himself plays the lead, Mookie, a young black man who lacks ambition and doesn't really live up to his responsibilities to his young son. He works as a pizza delivery person for Sal's pizzera, an Italian family-run business. We follow Mookie on his daily journey delivering pizzas to the neighborhood. This is when we meet all of the film's great characters: Da Mayor, Buggin Out, Mother Sister, Coconut Sid, Punchy, Smiley. These characters are even richer than their names.
The art direction of this film is very important. Lee only used hot colors (red is prominent), to bring out the tension and heat of the day. And Lee uses his camera like there's a polished documentary-film cameraman at the helm, always just a half step behind the action, trying to follow the drama of these characters on this day.
You can't help but like every single character in this film. Everyone is flawed, especially Mookie, who is pretty much a lazy guy, but you like them because these are real people with real feelings.
One of the themes of the film is 'ownership'. Sal, the pizzeria owner, puts photos of white boxers on the walls of his pizza shop because he owns the business and can put up whatever he likes on his walls, even though all of his custumers are black. The blacks believe they own the neighborhood because they are the ones living in it, and therefore should have a say in how things should be. And this is the major conflict that causes the riot at the end of the film. Another example is the sprinkler scene where many in the neighborhood are having a blast and cooling off using the fire hydrant. Then the white police come rolling in, ruining their good times.
Do the Right Thing is the title of the film, and Mookie decides what he thinks the right thing is during the dramatic ending. Everything that Spike Lee was doing at this time was making history. He was the first black director to work within the studio system, and he stuck to his guns after many run-ins with the higher-ups who wanted to change the controversial ending. Lee completed this masterpiece his way. A film needed to be made about the racist tones in the United States, and Lee achieved it.
This was a film at first that got hammered hard by a lot of critics for being a bit 'cartoonish,' which now is pretty hard to take, and tells you more about the critics than the film they were commenting on.
When this film played at Cannes, everyone thought this film would win. But it lost out to Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape. Even Soderbergh at the time was embarrassed that he won, because he knew Do the Right Thing was a better film.
This is just an important film, and everyone should watch it. But it's also a very well-made one that began a lot of careers.