25th Hour

UK release date: Sep 8 2009

cast list

Edward Norton
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Barry Pepper
Rosario Dawson
Brian Cox
Anna Paquin

directed by
Spike Lee
Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is a novice drug dealer who has 24 hours of freedom left before serving a seven-year jail sentence. Nervous, confused, and terrified, Monty turns to his closest friends and family for support – Frank (Barry Pepper), a cocky stock broker who resents Monty for throwing his life away, Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-loathing high school teacher who is attracted to one of his students (Anna Paquin), and Monty’s father (Brian Cox), who blames himself for his son’s demise.

Then there is Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), Monty’s girlfriend, who may or may not be guilty of ratting him out to the DEA. Monty spends his last day trying to ignore the inevitability of time, but everyone and everything only reminds him of the bleak, uncertain time that lay ahead.

Spike Lee, never one to shy away from speaking his mind via his films, uses 25th Hour as a springboard to reflect on September 11th and how the events of that day affected the mood and atmosphere of New York City. Monty’s dramatic life change is used as a metaphor for the Big Apple’s post-9/11 adjustment. When added to David Benioff’s script (based on the novel he wrote prior to the WTC attacks), some of these observations seem slightly out of sync with the rest of the story. Some work, such as Monty’s venomous rant in front of a bathroom mirror. Other scenes are less successful, for example the rambling dialogue between Frank and Jakob as they stand in front of a window overlooking Ground Zero while Terence Blanchard’s obtrusive score gets shoved down our throat.

For a large majority of the film, however, Lee’s directing is tightly focused, restraining from his usual visual trickery (wish I could say the same about the music). By holding back and letting the strength of Benioff’s story and a great ensemble cast take center stage, Lee crafts a mature, somber and highly effective piece of work.

Edward Norton adds another great performance to his career here as Monty. He perfectly captures all the anger, rage and remorse his character is feeling during his final hours of freedom. Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour-Hoffman are also excellent as Monty’s friends, while Brian Cox is solid as Monty’s heartbroken father. Only Rosario Dawson and Anna Paquin come off as merely okay in their performances, more a result of thinner characters than their acting ability.

25th Hour makes for a great, if overlong, double feature with another current motion picture that prominently features the Big Apple, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York. That film gives you a glimpse of where New York came from. 25th Hour shows you where it is and may be going. As with Scorsese’s opus, Spike Lee’s latest may have flaws of its own, but its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.

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