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With: Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Spike Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Frankie Faison, John Savage, Rosie Perez, Joie Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Roger Guenveur Smith, Martin Lawrence
Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 120
Date: 04/30/1989

Do the Right Thing (1989)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Fight the Power

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A perfect balance of audacity and control, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is inarguably one of the greatest American films ever made, despite the fact that both the Oscars and the American Film Institute's Top 100 list ignored it. The story is set on the hottest day of the year in the Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. Following several key characters throughout the day, the film allows little pockets of emotional pressure to boil slowly until the final explosive climax in which the cops strangle Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) in front of Sal's Famous Pizzeria.

But despite its fearless look at racial tensions, the film moves at a relaxed and humorous pace. It understands that slowly building stress is much more affecting than a sudden detonation, and it occasionally finds release through humor and warmth.

Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson brings an overpowering red-orange heat-haze to the film, elevating the frazzled emotions, but also decorates the picture with sporadic candy colored delights (such as the flavored shave-ice cart). Director Lee draws outstanding performances from his cast: Danny Aiello (as Sal, the Pizzeria owner), Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Richard Edson, his sister Joie Lee and Rosie Perez (in her film debut), as well as Roger Guenveur Smith and Samuel L. Jackson. Lee himself plays the central role of Mookie, the shiftless pizza deliveryman who throws a garbage can through Sal's Pizzeria window in response to Radio Raheem's death.

The Criterion Collection perfectly captures this powerful film on its 2001 DVD release. The rich, crisp colors shine in a clean, letterboxed picture. Criterion could have rested with the film alone, but this DVD contains a mountain of extras (it comes on two discs). Best of all is a commentary track by Lee, Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas, and Joie Lee; and a one-hour "Making of" documentary shot during production.

The package also includes close to an hour of video footage capturing rehearsals, auditions, and discussions, a recent interview with editor Barry Brown, storyboards, trailers, a music video for the movie's mighty anthem, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," and new video introductions by Lee. Some of this material was assembled for Criterion's 1995 laserdisc package, but this new DVD eclipses that former release.

In 2019, Criterion gave this essential film a fresh new Blu-ray release, with nearly flawless image and sound. It appears to include most or all of the many bonuses from the earlier DVD and Laserdisc releases, plus a couple of new ones: a featurette, The One and Only "Do the Right Thing", and an interview with costume designer Ruth E. Carter. A thick liner notes book includes an essay by critic Vinson Cunningham and excerpts from Lee's journal.

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