Do the Right Thing (1989)
Director: Spike Lee
Both the best and the worst thing I can say about Lee's film is that after twenty-seven years since it was released, the film's questions around racism and violence in America are no closer to being answered than they were in the late 80s, therefore making the film painfully relevant. And clearly, this is not the fault of the film, but rather an indictment on how slowly societal change can move. This film details a very American experience of racism, but its contemplation of the value placed on black lives speaks universally; I recorded the film off Australia's dedicated Aboriginal channel.
I re-watched West Side Story not long after seeing Lee's film, and felt the two spoke to each over almost thirty years. It comes out largely through the art direction; the splashes of bright colour on the walls of the streets, which help create an atmosphere of tension and anger that is essential for both stories. Lee's film is less about plot and more of a portrait of this street in Brooklyn, with its different characters from different generations; people who were alive during the 50s and 60s civil rights movement, and the next generation who are trying to fit into the post-movement world.
The performances are all really good; Spike Lee is very quiet as main character Mookie, but his performance works to allow the larger characters to shine, and also explains he ability to work with Sal (it takes a lot to rile Mookie). While our sympathies are with the neighbourhood, Lee cleverly complicates things, with Sal explaining to his racist son why he likes working in the neighbourhood. The climax asks the audience to decide if Mookie does the right thing, and if there is even a 'right thing' to do; is the morality clear-cut, or does it depend on where your sympathies lie?
The film starts off with a fantastic opening credits sequence of Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy's 'Fight the Power' (which will get stuck in your head for days!). It is full of anger and frustration, and is utterly compelling to watch; setting the audience up for the rest of the film. Stylish, clever and (sadly) still highly relevant, this is a great film.