Do the Right Thing


Universal acclaim - based on 15 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 15
  2. Negative: 0 out of 15

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Critic Reviews

  1. Los Angeles Times
    Reviewed by: Sheila Benson
    Stirred up impassioned debate everywhere; it would seem the greatest compliment that could be paid a stunning entertainment. [30 June 1989, Calendar, p.6-1]
  2. Chicago Tribune
    Reviewed by: Gene Siskel
    This is a sumptuous work, from its unconventional title sequence of a woman dancing hard in the streets to its provocative ending with conflicting quotes from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr .[30 June 1989, Friday, p.A]
  3. 100
    It comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.
  4. San Francisco Chronicle
    Reviewed by: Judy Stone
    Has more originality, nitty-gritty humor, spirit and spunk than all the summer blockbuster retreads combined. Underneath the jousting and jiving, there's a sharp, uncompromising look at the anatomy of a race riot in the movie. [30 June 1989, Daily Notebook, p.E3]
  5. The New York Times
    Reviewed by: Vincent Canby
    A remarkable piece of work. [30 June 1989]
  6. 100
    There's no doubt about the film's sheer power and taut originality.
  7. Mr. Showbiz
    Reviewed by: Carmel Dagan
    Witty portrait of a troubled community.
  8. USA Today
    Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    This is a fascinating movie experience. [30 June 1989, Life, p.1D]
  9. It is a subtle and humane entertainment with a refreshingly serious view of the world.
  10. 90
    A movie made by filmmaker working in sync with his times -- an exciting, disturbing, provocative film.
  11. Lee has forged a work of art in the classic sense -- art that delights and instructs.
  12. 80
    Combines a forceful statement on race relations with solid entertainment values.
  13. This is a powerful and persuasive look at an ethnic community and what makes it tick.
  14. The New Republic
    Reviewed by: Stanley Kauffmann
    There's a great deal in black America that has yet to reach the screen, and Lee is a prime candidate, in gift and gall, to help fill the gap. [July 3, 1989]
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 135 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 35 out of 43
  2. Negative: 7 out of 43
  1. Aug 31, 2015
    Bottom line: With Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee is able to start a conversation about race in America, pointedly and brilliantly.

    In Do the
    Bottom line: With Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee is able to start a conversation about race in America, pointedly and brilliantly.

    In Do the Right Thing, we watch an urban New York neighborhood during a heat-wave. Racial tensions smolder before erupting into violence. It is one of those movies that’s difficult to summarize; there are numerous characters whose plot lines intertwine but the core of the movie looks at the larger issue of racism. We have the Italian American, Sal (Aiello), who has owned the neighborhood pizza shop for twenty-five years. On one wall, he has a “Wall of Fame” which features photos of Italian-Americans. He refuses to put up any African or African-American photos. His son is a racist. We have the patron, a militant black power character, who vows to boycott Sal’s until there are Africans represented on the wall. Meanwhile, we have the brutal, white police officers. We have the Chinese owners of a local grocery store. We have the Hispanic community. We have Radio Raheem (Nunn) who blares Public Enemy on his boombox.

    Spike Lee is able to present the complexity of this issue, and this film-world, with coherence and harmony. This is what makes Do the Right Thing so good. The important part about this movie is that there is no one completely at fault. It may not sound like much, I mean, we have antiheroes all the time, right? Here though, the purpose is to spark a dialog about race in America. The movie closes with two quotes. The first is a warning from Martin Luther King Jr. about the dangers of violence. I thought, “Alright, I get it. All of the destruction in the movie could’ve been avoided by choosing peace.” Then comes a statement by Malcom X saying that while he doesn’t condone violence, violence might be necessary in self-defense and he does condone self-defense. Even in conclusion this movie presents more than one perspective.

    In Do the Right Thing, the message is as ambiguous as the film’s title. What is the “right thing?” Of course, we all want to do that but how do we know what it is? Even if we do know the right thing, it’s a lot easier said than done.

    Aside from a story perspective, Spike Lee fully uses the medium of film. It is a very hot summer day so he shows three old men sitting in lawn chairs partially covered by an umbrella. They sit in front of a fire-engine red brick wall. The color in and of itself makes the audience feel the warmth of that summer day. It reminded me of a Rothko painting.
    In other situations, Lee uses a wide-angle lens pushed close up to the actors who speak directly into the camera. It is an uncomfortable angle to watch and listen to someone scream at you. That’s the point. Our proximity to the characters removes any chance we have of escaping the situation. It’s as if the film is telling us that we have to address these issues.

    I just finished listening to an audio version of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It is about tackling the resistance that is preventing you from doing what you truly dream. At one point, he explains that in writing this book, his own demons of resistance fought him. He said to himself, “I am a fiction writer. Shouldn’t I, instead of writing a nonfiction book like this, cloak the same message in metaphor? I could write a story about a soldier’s trials and tribulations as he undertakes a mission.” Do the Right Thing is like The War of Art in the sense that it is not a message hidden in a film, it a direct message in and of itself. Spike Lee uses jump cuts help develop this idea.

    A jump cut is where the camera moves slightly between two shots. It moves in such a way that you can tell there was a cut. I have a bunch of jump cuts in my review videos, if you want to see an example. Up until around the 1960’s, cut jumps were considered more a mistake than anything. They are jarring and make you aware of the camera so it breaks some level of immersion. So, by using a couple jump cuts, Lee is able to address the audience and the audience’s interaction with the film. That is, we aren’t going to get too caught up in the plot that we lose sight of the fact that this is a movie with a message. Do the Right Thing is a cinematic representation of a speech or an editorial; it not only tells you but it shows you.

    I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure, but I’ll say it again. A good movie might tell you, a bad movie will probably tell you again, but a great movie will show you. Do the Right Thing is a great movie that I highly recommend. I’m only sorry it’s taken me so long to see it.
    Full Review »
  2. Jan 25, 2013
    Racial relations in films leave much room for sugarcoating and biased views of one or more people on the cast and crew, but thankfully, SpikeRacial relations in films leave much room for sugarcoating and biased views of one or more people on the cast and crew, but thankfully, Spike Lee is too smart to take sides or choose whose battle to support. In Do the Right Thing, he shows how racial relations have hurt one specific street block in Brooklyn. The result soars past any expectations one has going into it.

    The film plays like an anthology, featuring people that resemble real people, and who pack in realistic flaws. It takes place on a brutally hot day in the neighborhood, with the temperature in the late nineties to early hundreds. The film's center is a pizzeria on the street, called Sal's Famous, which is run by an Italian father and his two sons. The father is Sal Frangione (Aiello) who has been on the block for over twenty years, and his sons Pino (Turturro) who refers to coming to work like "Planet of the Apes," and Vito (Edson) who is accepting of the blacks.

    They're the only white people we see throughout the whole film and yet, despite some of their comments, we can sympathize with them in a way. All they want to do is run a business, but odd complications plague their day. The only black character employed at the pizzeria is slacker Mookie (played by Spike Lee himself). Mookie is a gentle and sweet kid, but seems to develop a distracting fondness for anything but his work.

    Other people around down are simple, frequently drunk "Da Mayor" (Davis), Mother Sister (Dee), who observes the neighborhood through her window, Radio Raheem (Nunn), who blasts his music at deafening level on his boombox, which annoys many, Buggin' Out (Esposito), a geeky man who wants to see some black people on the wall of Sal's Famous, and Sonny (Park), a Korean grocery store owner across the street from Sal.

    Not a lot of films can perfect the idea of "all characters, no plot," but Do the Right Thing is effortlessly convincing. The film also excels in being extremely original and stylistic in the sense that the heat from the day itself seems to be creeping out on screen. All the characters are soaked in sweat and the cinematography is so bright and loaded with primary colors that it comes off as infectious and unique. Even the air looks to be seamy and murky. Every detail is included, and nothing is overlooked.

    Finally, there's the climax, one of the best, and most involved I have yet to see. It's unexpected, well-choreographed, and never misses a beat. It doesn't seem cartoony, as much as it seems realistic and well done. I wish I could go into greater detail, but it needs to be seen to be believed. Also, one of the characters does an act you wouldn't think that insights one of the major plot points. I think it's safe to say, he didn't do the right thing.

    Do the Right Thing isn't only provocative, but it avoids cliches and doesn't give us the same "racism is bad" lecture. It's too original and intelligent for that. Lee has introduced us to likable characters that we continue to adore as the film goes on, and despite the heavy climax, we still at least respect. You're left contemplating what the right thing is/was and how would you go about doing it.

    Starring: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro, Ruby Dee, Steve Park, Bill Nunn, Richard Edson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence, and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Spike Lee.
    Full Review »
  3. EltonT.
    Sep 23, 2007
    I was forced to watch this movie for a school assignment. I was excited to see it because of the reviews that it had. To say the least I was I was forced to watch this movie for a school assignment. I was excited to see it because of the reviews that it had. To say the least I was totally disappointed. I thought it was poorly written and directed. Worse yet the theme of the movie only encourages the rift between races. Full Review »