• Mo’ Better Blues is Spike Lee’s fourth feature, and first after 1989’s Do the Right Thing.

The opening credits are breathtaking.

It does seem like the best, from Scorsese to Hitchcock to Spike, take the opening credits seriously

Spike’s credit sequence in 1989 for Do the Right Thing make it two straight films with this kind of artistry right up front to start


  • It opens in 1969 Brooklyn to tell the story of the young Bleek Gilliam (adult version played by Denzel- the first of four collaborations between Denzel and Spike). Unfortunately, Spike’s attention to detail waivers a little here and the little kid cannot act, the mother does not convince either and these first eight minutes of the film do not leave a good first impression. There are no small parts. To that end, Spike casts himself as Bleek’s manager and Spike is not great here in the film. He is smirking in the first scene- just breaking character right away.
  • There are some low lows which is disappointing given Spike’s talent and the cast and crew assembled- but there are some high highs as well. Spike and Ernest Dickerson (his go-to- director of photography) have the golden sun pouring in on Denzel and Spike’s real life sister Joie Lee (unfortunately another questionable casting decision). Later, Denzel and Dick Anthony Williams play catch in front of the Brooklyn Bridge in a nice showcase of attention to background as well as the foreground.

Spike and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson

a sumptuous cinematic painting here

  • Bill Lee (Spike’s father)’s flowering jazz score fills many of the scenes.

At the 21-minute mark Spike uses a 360 degree rotating shot of Denzel practicing.

  • Spike has a little nod to Midnight Cowboy with “I’m walking here” on the streets of New York as his floating camera hovers outside of the jazz club. Spike often takes the crane to frame, move the camera, and reframe within the same shot- like a version of Renoir but from the air.
  • The script includes a lot of breathing room for the cast to just ad-lib and joke around. The cast includes frequent Spike collaborators like Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito. Spike just chooses to spend some time in some odd places, like fifteen minutes on two women (lovers of Bleek) wearing the same dress in the same club on the same night.
  • Whip pans during arguments about money between Washington and Wesley Snipes’ character at the 47-minute mark. It is fun to see Denzel and Snipes playing a little at their real life (albeit brief in the early 1990s) Pacino vs. De Niro rivalry.

Spike’s trademark double dolly briefly at the 79-minute mark on himself riding a bike.

  • It does not get much cooler than a well-dressed young Denzel wearing shades playing jazz.
  • Spike never quite figures out the ending- is it a redemption story? Just a slice of life?
  • Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1990—it never lives up to Do the Right Thing but it does not lack for cinematic energy and ingenuity