‘Extra cheese is two dollars…’
After recently watching and loving Black KkKlansman, I endeavoured to make 2019 the year that I properly explored the work of legendary director Spike Lee. Do The Right Thing is one of those films that results in people looking at me aghast when I let slip that I’ve never seen it, so this seemed like the logical starting point. I was not to be disappointed.
Do The Right Thing follows a scorching day in Brooklyn centered around Sal’s Pizzeria, a traditional Italian American pizza place located in the middle of a mostly black neighbourhood. Relations are strained between the various ethnic groups, while Mookie (performed by Spike Lee himself) attempts to keep the peace and get himself paid.
The ’80s and ’90s were the golden age for hangout movies. Friday, Clerks, Dazed and Confused among others are films with no particular plot that instead ask the audience to spend a day in the life with a selection of interesting and eclectic characters. Do The Right Thing is in a similar mould but as with most of Spike Lee’s work, there is an overtly political message at centre of this movie. Lee has been accused of being a little too on the nose with his rhetoric in the past but Do The Right Thing is actually enjoyably ambiguous. Each group in this movie is richly drawn and viewed as an actual human being. Nobody is either totally good or totally bad with the pizzeria owner Sal being a prime example. Sal could be viewed as either the hero or the villain of the story depending on your point of view and it is this ambiguity that allows Do The Right Thing to be so compelling and to still feel so relevant.
Do The Right Thing can be enjoyed as a powerful political message or just as an entertaining snapshot of life in New York in the ’80s. You come for the message but you stay for Samuel L. Jackson as a riffing radio DJ.
This is the first film I have crossed off my list of Cinematic New Year’s Resolutions, and I have to say that it’s a great starting point.