96 – Do The Right Thing (1989)

Radio Raheem: Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. It’s a tale of good and evil. Hate: it was with this hand that Cane iced his brother. Love: these five fingers, they go straight to the soul of man.


Seen before?

R: No, I’ll admit I hadn’t even heard of it.

F: Nope and I didn’t really know anything about it before watching it.



R: This film manages to take a pretty sophisticated look at race relations in New York with a lightness of touch that I didn’t expect coming in to a Spike Lee film. Sure there are some sledgehammer (or should that be baseball bat?) moments, but there’s also a lot of subtlety and depth, and crucially it never felt preachy.

F: For me this is the only film so far in the list which has stayed with me after we finished watching it. Or to put it another way, it’s the only one I want to see again quite soon. It was refreshing to watch a film that I knew very little about before going in so maybe I want to see what I missed.

R: Yes, there is so much here it might be difficult to do it justice after only one viewing, but certainly I thought the tone of the film and the way it develops was really interesting and unusual. It begins like some kind of cheerful musical comedy, partly thanks to the way it’s shot and edited. It’s quite stagey the way Lee will often just point the camera at two characters talking, rather than cutting between shots to dictate the pace of each scene. But quickly it becomes clear it’s only a matter of time before the peace will be broken and as the film wears on the question of how and when it’s all going to kick-off increasingly looms over the many sweet and comedic moments. That meant I felt quite genuinely anxious by the time we got to the final act, and the violence felt all the more grim when it arrived.

F: It definitely lulls you into a false sense of security at the beginning and I agree, this only makes the the last third more tense. It reminded me of the tonal shift in A Room For Romeo Brass, a late-90s British film by Shane Meadows. The title is also interesting – do we think that Mookie does ‘the right thing’ towards the end?

R: It’s tough to give that question the consideration it deserves without major spoilers, but to be simplistic about it can we say Malcolm X would answer “yes” and Martin Luther King Jr would answer”no”? I’ll accept that’s a bit of a cop out, but it’s a dualism the film repeatedly comes back to.

F: I’d probably go with ‘yes’ but who knows if I’d change my mind if I saw it again!

 R: Perhaps what the film is really about is that in economically-deprived, ethnically-diverse communities, even knowing what “the right thing” is can be incredibly difficult, let alone doing it.

F: I really liked the use of music in this film. I wish more films had a character who walks around with a huge boom box blasting out ‘Fight The Power’!

R: Yes, Radio Raheem is a pretty cool dude. As much as we both enjoyed the film though I’m not sure we can give it a totally free pass. While the majority of the large cast of characters are well fleshed out, it’s not true of them all. I thought the Korean shop-owner, Sonny, stood out as being totally one-dimensional. Did he serve a purpose beyond adding another racial stereotype to the mix? Why was he in the movie?

F: I think he was probably there to show that everyone can feel very protective of their neighbourhood and maybe feel threatened by newcomers. There’s also the scene with the guy on his bike which further shows how worried some of the community are that the area is becoming gentrified. Sal and his pizza are accepted but probably only because he’s been there so long. I think what shocked me most was that this movie is over 25 years old, yet the issues raised feel very current, especially in America at the moment.

R: Yes, it’s a bit bleak that the film is probably only more relevant now than it was in 1989, but this was a great reminder of how bold and creative American cinema can be.

 F: It is a very brave film. Probably too brave for The Academy where it was famously not even nominated for the Oscar that year. But this film is a great portrayal of some important issues and I’m happy that films like this get made.

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: I’d like to see it again to confirm my opinion, but yes I think it probably is.

F: Most confident yes I’ve given so far.


Up next:
95 – The Last Picture Show (1971)
97 – Blade Runner (1982)

2 thoughts on “96 – Do The Right Thing (1989)

  1. Makes me want to see it again. It was the first Spike Lee film I saw and none of the others that I have seen have quite matched up to Do The Right Thing.

    Is it that really tight sense of people, place and time?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I think that’s a huge part of it!

      It’s certainly a film that stays with you long after you’ve seen it. I think having only seen it once doesn’t do it justice so going to try and find time to squeeze it in again between the other 95 films on this list! And I agree it’s Spike Lee’s best work (of what I’ve seen). F


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