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25th Hour (R)
Touchstone Pictures
Official Site
Director: Spike Lee
Producer: Jon Kilik, Julia Chasman, Spike Lee, Tobey Maguire
Written by: David Benioff
Cast: Ed Norton, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox

Rating: out of 5

I see more, and enjoy fewer, movies than just about anyone I know. Friends and family are consistently frustrated with me for this reason. I seem to always find myself downplaying the merits of somebody’s favorite movie, be it a fluffy crowd-pleasing piece of crap like A Beautiful Mind or a well-intentioned, bloated and unfulfilling work along the lines of About Schmidt. During these long harangues, I am inevitably asked, “Why do you go to so goddamned many movies if you never like any of them?” Sometimes it’s been so long I can’t even remember the answer, but the reason is that every once in a while I get to see something like 25th Hour.

Spike Lee’s latest concerns Monty Brogan (Norton), a convicted drug dealer who has been sentenced to seven years in prison. As in the director’s earlier Do The Right Thing, all the events occur in the same 24-hour period. (Technically, a few scenes take place outside of this timeline, but they are pointedly filmed so that they “look” different.) In this case, the action takes place in New York City on Monty’s last day of freedom before checking himself in to an upstate prison. But “action” is a bit of a misnomer—25th Hour has, essentially, no plot. The film functions more as a vehicle for its characters to meditate upon Monty’s past and impending future, and is as talky as anything from Richard Linklater or Whit Stillman. But what emerges from the characters’ interactions with each other is something much larger and more profound than the resolution of any particular conflict.

Monty himself wonders who might have fingered him to the DEA, and the leading candidate is his girlfriend, Naturelle (Dawson). Fearing the worst, Monty is increasingly cold to her. Not knowing the cause of Monty’s distance, Naturelle is confused and hurt by his emotional rejection, as the couple has only one night left together. Monty’s two oldest friends, Wall Street player Frank (Pepper) and schlubby prep-school teacher Jakob (Hoffman), wonder if they could have stopped Monty from dealing drugs, and if there is any way to help him now. Monty’s father (Cox) is racked with guilt about the fact that he was drunk through much of his son’s childhood, and that a lot of Monty’s drug money had gone to bail out his failing bar. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a powerful performance in a subplot that finds Jakob longing for his flirtatious but underage student (Paquin). While Jakob’s dilemma eats away at him and threatens to destroy his life, his friends can hardly be bothered, concerned as they are about Monty’s impending incarceration.

Simmering beneath all of these interpersonal concerns is New York City itself. One scene overlooks the empty space where once stood the Twin Towers, and another features a monument to fallen firefighters. At one point in the film, Monty delivers to his reflection a long staccato monologue splaying about his desire that various groups of Gotham residents get fucked. While some might find this rant stereotypical and offensive, it reflects a deep intimacy and familiarity with the place and its people; though Monty might hate New York, he seems afraid that he cannot live without it.

Spike Lee has named Martin Scorsese as one of his biggest influences. 25th Hour showcases this tutelage—the last 15 minutes or so, for example, are heavily indebted to The Last Temptation Of Christ. Both filmmakers’ most recent projects use New York City to make a statement about our nation at large in the wake of September 11. But while Gangs Of New York looks to root our self-understanding in a past long since forgotten, 25th Hour examines a present often misunderstood in order to reach few conclusions at all. By leaving open the possibility that none of us know what America means, Lee has delivered a truly excellent movie.

—Mike O’Connor


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