Top critical review
An Overrated Effort that was Almost Great
on November 30, 2003
This film had so much promise: the beautiful colors, the eventual all-star ensemble cast in great roles, the poignant topic, the up-and-coming director's early film, and so on. It looked like an intelligent French art film. The ending ruined it for me, however, and cheapened the whole experience.
For a while, I got the feeling that Lee was making a film critical of his own community for creating many of their own problems, while not ignoring the external ones (as evident in John Tuturro's character and the NYPD), in a way a white director could never get away with these days. During those scenes, Lee also portrays simple, stereotypical images of Koreans, Puerto Ricans, and Italian-Americans. But it was all colorful and entertaining, leading us towards the climactic finale...
What was Lee's message in this film? Ultimately, I got the feeling that he felt his character "did the right thing" by inciting a riot. If that is the case, then this film is utter trash. If not, he should have told us so in some manner, however obscure, before it ended. In either event, the film's ultimate failure at poignancy destroys all the beautiful art that came before. In the end, I felt much less empathy with the plight of the African American community than I did before. The only character that seemed to be vindicated by the events was the racist Italian son. Is that what Lee was aiming for? Result: A sad failure.
If you want to see a good Spike Lee "joint", I recommend you watch Clockers, Malcolm X, or even Son of Sam.
A final note, history has not been kind to this film. One scene shows graffiti saying "Tawana told the truth" (in fact, we now know she lied), and in another, Lee defends Jessie Jackson's honor (now seriously in question on numerous counts). That certainly doesn't help the cause of Lee's preachy tone, nor his apparent belief that Mookie "did the right thing".