|Pick of the Week:|
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "Can you change your whole life in a day?"
Length: 135 minutes
Spike Lee directed "25th Hour," but the screenplay was written by David Benioff based on his own novel. The film features a fine ensemble cast that includes Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, and Anna Paquin. Also, I loved Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography and Terence Blanchard's musical score, and the New York locations are terrific. I found "25th Hour" to be one of Spike Lee's best films, and it's one of the best movies of any kind I've seen this year.
"25th Hour" is an unconventional drama that I found to be very emotionally powerful. The film has a decidedly non-Hollywood structure, but I thought it had good narrative drive. The sensibility is theatrical, and the movie might be a bit talky for some, but I loved it. The story takes place in about June, 2002, and the post-9/11 situation in New York is reflected in many ways.
The film centers around Monty Brogan (Norton), an Irish-American man who is about 31 years old. He grew up in modest circumstances in Brooklyn, but now lives on Manhattan's Upper East Side and leads a life of affluence. Monty managed to get away with dealing drugs for years, but his luck finally ran out. The movie chronicles his last 24 hours of freedom before he begins serving a seven-year prison term.
Before going to jail, Monty bids rather lengthy farewells to some people, including: his father (Cox), a retired fireman who runs a bar on Staten Island; Frank Slaughtery (Pepper), his best friend since childhood, now a high-powered Wall Street broker; his longtime friend Jacob Elinsky (Hoffman), a high school teacher from a wealthy Jewish family; and his live-in girlfriend, Naturelle Riviera (Dawson), a sexy young woman of Puerto Rican ancestry.
While "25th Hour" doesn't exactly have a plot, it seems to me it does have lots of dramatic tension, which comes from several sources, including: (1) Monty knows his arrest came about because someone ratted him out, and his belief that it might have been his girlfriend strains their relationship; (2) Monty fears being raped in prison, and he tries desperately to come up with a strategy for dealing with that likelihood; (3) Slaughtery lusts after Monty's girlfriend, but his code of behavior requires that he never act on it; and (4) Elinsky lusts after one of his high school students (Paquin) and ends up with her in a nightclub, where she behaves provocatively.
For me, the most memorable thing in "25th Hour" will always be the five-minute rant delivered by Monty as he stands alone in a men's room, gazing at his image in the mirror. He rages at panhandlers and squeegee men, Sikh and Pakistani taxi drivers, Chelsea boys, Korean grocers, Russian mobsters, Hasidim diamond-sellers, Wall Street brokers, Puerto Ricans swelling the welfare rolls, Bensonhurst Italians, Upper East Side wives, Uptown brothers, corrupt NYPD cops, and finally "this whole city and everyone in it." While Monty delivers his profanity-laced tirade, the screen shows what Spike Lee calls the "f-you montage" and music plays in the background. But ultimately Monty acknowledges that his rage is misdirected, as he looks at himself in the mirror and says disgustedly, "You had it all, and you threw it away."
But as the movie winds down, there's a seven-and-a-half minute sequence I think is also unforgettable. Accompanied by a lush orchestral score, Brian Cox, playing Monty's father, delivers a long soliloquy in voice-over. In it, he tells his son he'll be glad to help him flee to someplace that's far away from New York and very different. "These towns out in the desert—you know how they got there? People wanted to get away from somewhere else. The desert's for starting over." The soliloquy is accompanied by a fantasy sequence where rather than going to prison, Monty goes to a small town in the American West and makes a new life for himself. For me, this sequence was both poignant and mesmerizing.
"25th Hour" is such an unusual film that I find it difficult to boil down my reactions to it. I suppose it's basically a cautionary tale about the price a young middle-class man pays for allowing himself to be seduced by the easy money and lifestyle of drug-dealing. But I think what will stick with me about the movie is its atmosphere, which is created primarily by setting the story in New York a few months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. More than anything else, the film seems to me to be a mood piece. I see it as a cinepoem that is, among other things, a meditation on the vibrancy and resilience of New York. At the end of the movie I'm left with a feeling of hope. Perhaps that is what Lee intended by showing a postcard that depicts a hand-drawn heart surrounding the hand-printed words "YOU CANNOT STOP NEW YORK CITY."
The DVD contains two separate feature-length audio commentary tracks—one by director Spike Lee, the other by novelist-screenwriter David Benioff—and I found them both worthwhile. There are also half a dozen deleted scenes, and it's a pity they had to be cut from the movie because it runs a little long. I particularly recommend watching the deleted scene "Sway" to see an interesting example of Lee's theatrical style. There are also two featurettes, and I have listed these and the DVD's other special features below.
Special Features of the DVD:
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