25th Hour review

:. Director: Spike Lee
:. Starring: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman
:. Running Time: 2:14
:. Year: 2003
:. Country: USA


Spike Lee once again delves into the heart of New York City (and controversy) with his latest film, 25th Hour. Based on David Benioff's novel, 25th Hour is the first film in the industry to take place in post 9-11 New York. With Terence Blanchard's bleak yet jazzy score, New York City and one man's journey of facing his inner demons and finding redemption has never looked (or sounded) this good.

The film follows Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) and how he spends the last 24 hours of his life as a free man before having to serve 7 years in prison. (Lee is familiar with this format as Do The Right Thing also takes place over 24 hours.) The ensemble of characters are forced into stereotypical boxes, such as Monty's Irish heritage, his father James (played by Brian Cox) owning a bar and Rosario Dawson as his Puerto Rican girlfriend, Naturelle. Rounding out the cast are Monty's two childhood friends Frank, (Barry Pepper) a Wall Street playboy and Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as a Jewish school teacher suppressing his sexual urges toward his tease of a student, played by Anna Paquin. But while the characters may be stiff and little to work with, the actors' portrayals of them are strong enough to keep them from coming off as cardboard cutouts.

Noteworthy is Edward Norton's in-depth and raw onscreen performance (one of his best.) As the nationalist Irish and homophobic Monty, one may think Norton has a penchant for taking his fans on a roller coaster ride by watching him play hateful characters (his first and most grotesque was his performance in American History X.) But Norton is smarter than that, and instead makes Monty come off as deceitful yet slick, sorrowful, yet brotherly. Not to mention brutally honest to a fault, his cringe-worthy monologue in front of a mirror so hateful and intense that it would make John Rocker blush. What makes the monologue so forgivable though is that he ends it by blaming himself—one of a few epiphanies he has throughout the film. He realizes that he's where he's at because he put himself there. The only person at fault is Monty because, as the old saying goes, you are in control of your own destiny.

Though having a white lead and mostly supporting cast is a change for Lee, his accurate depiction and love for New York City still remains deep rooted in his films. While a few production companies refused to have the film deal with the theme of post 9-11 New York City, Lee paints it onscreen with his usual unflinching eye. Dazzling shots and camera angles of the Manhattan skyline, complete with the lights that now symbolize the fallen towers, introduce the audience to the tone and setting of the film during the opening credits. A painfully realistic shot of ground zero, augmented by Blanchard's score is, in his own way, Lee's personal and beautiful way to mourn and respect those who died that crisp September day. Such sensitive subject matter could have only been brought onscreen by a New Yorker, and what better person for the job than Spike Lee. His heartfelt portrayal of New York City is a gentle, refreshing and cathartic contrast to Norton's harshly energetic Monty.

25th Hour is well worth the money. While at times it may be slow, as films based upon books usually are due to their attention to detail, and its honest images and characters too much to stomach, the overall result is a beautifully tragic movie that wakes us up to the realities of New York City and human nature. Instead of smacking us in the face, the film takes the audience by the hand, showing us—much like New Yorkers did last September—that despite the circumstances, the human spirit prevails.

  Sarah Lund

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