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Reviewed March 25th, 2001 by Todd Terwilliger


Do The Right Thing was Spike Lee's third film after She's Got To Have It and School Daze. In a sense, this film is a continuation or crystallization of those earlier films. On the hottest day of the Summer, emotions in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn. When Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) complains why local pizzaria owner Sal (Danny Aiello) has only pictures of Italian-Americans on his wall, a chain reaction is triggered which will invariably change the neighborhood.

This is a film about race. It doesn't turn away or shrug from it, but goes head on. Each of the characters has a clear motivation that we can, on some level, understand, whether or not we ultimately agree with it. As Roger Ebert says of the film, “...any open-minded member of the audience would walk out of the movie able to understand the motivations of every character...”

This is key because this is the nature of the film: character and empathy between characters. If there is a fatal flaw which leads to the downfall of this neighborhood it is the imperfect understandings between the people. They don't get each other and they aren't prepared to get each other. As Lee demonstrates, it is not only a black-white issue but an issue between every ethnicity and within each ethnic group. From this interplay springs Do The Right Thing's power.

The cast is full of then future stars, from Rosie Perez to Samuel L. Jackson to Martin Lawrence. John Turturro is almost too real as Sal's son Pino and Ossie Davis is both comic and sad as Da Mayor, the neighborhood wino.

Presented in its theatrical aspect of 1.85:1, the anamorphic transfer is bright and clean. The vibrant colors, especially the reds, are widespread and look outstanding. The picture is not without some grain in spots and there are some scratches here and there. The transfer, however, is a huge improvement over anything that came before.

There are two different soundtrack presentations, a PCM stereo track and a 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround track. Both tracks are excellent but I found the PCM track to be slightly fuller than the DD. Either way, though, the film has never sounded this good. The opening beats of Public Enemy's “Fight The Power” jam. Dialog is also very crisp.

There are a ton of extras spread between the two discs of the Criterion presentation. On disc one, there is a commentary featuring Lee, his sister (and actor) Joie Lee, Ernest Dickerson and Wynn Thomas. Each part was recorded separately and then edited together. It is interesting but I wish there was more Spike and less everyone else. In a film such as this one, I am much less interested in the technical aspects or peripheral thoughts than the thinking of the filmmaker. The rest of the extras are too numerous to mention. It's all there but the kitchen sink.

Do The Right Thing is not an easy film. It doesn't judge. A fact that I think upsets many viewers. Lee doesn't tell you who's right or wrong, or even what “the right thing” is. We have to think, and make our own decisions. But that is also what keeps the film compelling and timeless. Do The Right Thing was released in 1989 but it is still timely. The issues then are the same issues now and hold the same lessons. It's all there on the screen, if we dare to look.


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