out of Five
Running time: 132
25th Hour is a return to form for Spike Lee – superbly acted and impressively directed, it’s a moving study of loss and responsibility in post-9/11 New York.
Spike Lee’s latest “joint”, 25th Hour, is based on a novel by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay, giving his pre-9/11 novel extra resonance by setting it squarely post-9/11. In that sense, the film has much in common with Lee’s 2000 film, Summer of Sam – both films feature a city that is both wounded and angry, recovering from tragedy (serial killer, terrorist bombings). As a result, Lee has turned in an extremely moving tale of loss and responsibility in post-9/11 New York, and he’s rewarded with great performances from his excellent cast.
Not Much Of A Traditional Plot
There isn’t really much of a plot in the traditional sense. Edward Norton plays Monty Brogan, a convicted drug dealer who has just 24 hours of freedom in which to say goodbye to his loved ones.
These include his two best friends, high school teacher Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Wall Street trader Frank (Barry Pepper) as well as his Latin American girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) and his father, a retired firefighter-turned bar owner (Brian Cox). Over the course of the film he visits them all individually, before inviting them to a nightclub to share his final night. He also tries to work out which of them, if any, sold him out to the Feds.
There’s also a sub-plot, involving Jacob’s highly inappropriate crush on Mary (Anna Paquin), one of his students. Unfortunately, she happens to be hanging around outside the nightclub and she asks Jacob to get her in…
Nicest Drug Dealer In The World…
Frankly, Monty comes across as so damn likeable (we first meet him rescuing a dog that is bleeding to death) that he must have been The Nicest Drug Dealer In The World – it’s difficult to imagine him doing his job effectively and consorting with Russian Mafia types.
Similarly, the idea that Monty a) gets 24 hours of freedom in the first place, and b) actually has to drive himself to prison the next day, takes some getting used to, whether it’s based on truth or not.
The performances are excellent; with the little-known Pepper perhaps the stand-out (this may prove to be his break-out role). Norton is superb, grappling with the realisation that it was his own actions and greed that brought him to where he is and choosing to deal with his fear of being a Prison Pretty Boy in disturbing fashion. Hoffman and Paquin are excellent, too and their scenes together are extremely well-directed, especially the brilliant nightclub sequence.
Sharp, Witty and Moving
Benioff’s script is sharp, witty and moving, with several great scenes. One in particular has Monty ranting in front of the mirror, spewing insults at every ethnic and minority group in New York before finally turning his bile on himself. (This scene recalls the similar scene in Do The Right Thing – however, it occurs in Benioff’s novel, which, in turn, was written after Do The Right Thing).
The film also has a scene set in Frank’s apartment, which overlooks the site of Ground Zero – the effect of this is like staring into the open wound of the city (contrast this with previous films that discreetly edited out images of the twin towers).
Given the amount of imagery, symbolism and general angst in the film, you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be a two hour diatribe, complete with hand-wringing and self-flagellation. Fortunately, that’s not the case and no explicit points are made, although the setting definitely allows you to draw your own comparisons. That’s not to say that the film is flawless, however – it’s at least twenty minutes too long and there’s an extended fantasy sequence that seems needlessly drawn out.
In short, 25th Hour is an intelligent, thoughtful, well-acted and superbly directed film that’s well worth seeing, despite the odd flaw. Recommended.