When I first saw this film, I was utterly mesmerized by the lively, tumultuous tableau that Lee so masterfully painted. The dazzling array of characters, the tensions (racial or otherwise) that needed release in the heat, the sense of a fractious community - Lee really held it together. Then the climax of violence that came, from the spark of a needless killing, and threatened to engulf everyone. I loved it then and loved it now, 20 years after I first saw it.
Nonetheless, the film had aged considerably for a number of reasons. First and foremost, race relations have evolved decisively. We have a black president, in spite of all our persistent problems of poverty, under-achievement, and drugs. But I also found some of the acting a bit stilted, even from two great actors, Aiello and Samuel Jackson; even Ossie Davis and Turturro seemed locked in rather two-dimensional characters. Moreover, the complete absence of the drug culture makes the picture incomplete. Lastly, I found the climax, and particularly Mookie's unexpected action, harder to believe than I did when younger. As such, I find that there are new productions, such as the incomparable The Wire, have succeeded far better in exploring through art the issues that underlie America's ongoing urban crisis.
That being said, many of the performances are still fresh, both hilarious and affecting. The trio of men (with Sweet Dick WIllie) in ongoing dialogue, the wonderful anger of Rosie Perez, and the simmering rage of Ruby Dee are worth the price of admission. Moreover, the internal dialogue that the film is designed to provoke - similar to Bertold Brecht - is as effective and relevant as ever. This is a pioneering work that is well worth viewing again. It may even become a classic.