Director brings honesty into ‘well-crafted’ films

By Derek Miles

I enjoy the work of Spike Lee. People always seem a bit surprised when I tell them that.

For one reason or another, during the course of a career that now spans more than three decades, director Spike Lee has become somewhat of a controversial figure in the movie world. Whether it is something actually depicted in one of his films, or if it’s because of his off-camera antics, like when Lee accused a U.S. senator of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or when he got into a public feud with Clint Eastwood, or when he once said that Charlton Heston should be shot, he has often stirred emotions.

However, what is too often lost in the controversies is the fact that he has established himself as one of the best filmmakers of the last quarter century.

Next week, when Lee’s newest joint, “Miracle at St. Anna,” hits theaters, we may not be graced with a film in the ranks of some of the classics that he has turned out over the last 20 years. We will, however, be given something else — another Spike Lee joint. This means more than a popcorn flick, a clumsy thriller or a cliché romance tear-jerker that seem all so common in contemporary cinema.

It means a film that will not only be extremely entertaining, but also challenging, relevant, exciting and ambitious. It will be a remarkably well-crafted film, shot with Lee’s unmistakable talent that touches on some pretty heavy stuff. The film will most likely feature power, race, faith, loyalty and justice.

Lee burst into the American psyche in 1989 with the explosive “Do the Right Thing.” Lee’s movie about the bigotry and violence that ensued on the hottest day of the year in an ethnically diverse Brooklyn neighborhood turned out to be not only a blueprint of his films to come, but also one of the best and most powerful films of the 1980s. Not only was the movie made with Lee’s mesmerizing style, but “Do the Right Thing” also addressed issues such as race and hate in a way that no other filmmaker had done up to this point — with utter honesty from both sides of the issues.

In the years that followed “Do the Right Thing,” Lee starred as Mars Blackmon in the Air Jordan commercials and he gave us some of the most challenging movies made in the last two decades.

Movies like “Jungle Fever,” about the racial divide which confronts two interracial lovers, and “Malcolm X,” the biopic of the famous, and infamous, activist played by Denzel Washington, are two of Lee’s most significant.

The 1998 film “He Got Game” gave us an emotional look at the pressure that faced a high school basketball prodigy when his estranged father came back in his life.

In 2002, “25th Hour” took us on a spellbinding and poignant story of a man’s last day of freedom before he was sent to prison. This was also the first film shot in New York City in 2001 after Sept. 11, which was a topic Lee chose to address head on since New York was such an important aspect of this film.

The bank robbery thriller “Inside Man” not only managed to be intriguing and suspenseful, but also managed to raise relevant social issues of the day. Will “Miracle at St. Anna” join the ranks of these superb films? We’ll have to wait and see.

Let’s not pretend that Lee has ever shied away from any kind of controversy, and let’s not pretend that he hasn’t brought some of that on himself. But let’s also not pretend that Lee is not an excellent filmmaker.

With a track record of making films that are not only made in mesmerizing fashion, but that are also culturally, socially and morally pertinent, why should anyone be surprised when I tell them I enjoy the work of Spike Lee?