Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, John Turturro, Frankie Faison
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Many times, I tend to regard Spike Lee as I do Woody Allen...immensely talented, but unwilling to get out of the way enough to allow the film to achieve greatness. Each director has had, in my opinion, one shining example of great filmmaking. For Woody Allen, the film was "Annie Hall." For Spike Lee, the film is "Do the Right Thing."
"Do the Right Thing" looks at the hottest day in New York in one neighborhood (Bedford Stuy) and the relationships and behaviors of its residents. We have Lee himself as a pizza boy, Ossie Davis as a neighborhood drunk and Danny Aiello as the pizza store owner among many other characters. These characters have deep resentments, hatred and bigotry that, in this film, explode into violence.
The film is honest, realistic and wonderfully written and directed by Lee. In other words, even though he is in the cast Lee managed to get out of the way of this film and allow the characters to tell the story...and it's a powerful story.
In fact, Spike Lee received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay here...this film was way too controversial in 1989 to get a win...but, personally, I'd have chosen it. Danny Aiello received an Oscar nomination for his performance as the pizza shop owner...this is, perhaps, Aiello's shining moment on film. A long recognized character actor of great quality, Aiello has found in this pizza shop owner the perfect character to play. It's a powerful, authentic performance.
Both Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee received NAACP Image Awards, and this is one of the few times I agree with the Image Awards...too often, they tend to recognize stereotypes and "popular" African-American performances regardless of quality. This win was right on the money.
I also give kudos to Ernest Dickerson's cinematography...he beautifully captures the "neighborhood," the tensions and the individual qualities of the characters.
The power of this film, for me, lies in its lasting impact. In 1999, it was inducted into the National Film Registry and it continues to be a film that creates talk and debate 15 years after its production. It is powerful, insightful, confrontational and Spike Lee at his best.
© Written by Richard Propes
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Richard Propes, The Independent Critic