25th Hour reads as a very angry love letter from Spike Lee to New York City. It’s certainly one of Lee’s better joints, the piece of a competent, mature filmmaker, not some of the blathering drivel we’ve seen in some of his movies. 25th Hour is well worth checking out.
The story follows Irish, New York drug dealer Monty (the impeccable Edward Norton). He’s not big time, but not necessarily small time either. The police got him on enough stuff to put him away for seven years, and it’s only his first offense. He’s already been sentenced and has one day to say goodbye to his recovering alkie father (the tremendous Brian Cox), see his sleazy best friend and Wall Street financier (Barry Pepper in, perhaps, the only performance I’ve ever seen him where I wasn’t annoyed), and to see his not so sleazy other best friend, a Jewish teacher at a fancy prep school (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has some controlled, but inappropriate tendencies towards one of his more flashy students (a completely terrific Anna Paquin). Also along for the right is his freakishly attractive girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), whom he suspects may have turned him into the police. The prospect of this tortures him.
Every single actor is as aggressive and fantastic as Lee is in his direction. Norton is an acting tour de force. His five minute monologue insulting every race, organization and institution that make up the five boroughs is some of the best acting I’ve seen, and the material is no less moving. The story is adapted by David Benioff, and it’s based on the novel he wrote. It’s a story of human triumph, the ability to manage, even in the face of tremendous odds against you. The film was released in 2002, and Lee tastefully used the newly shattered New York skyline, the devastation of Ground Zero to compare and contrast Monty’s newly shattered life, and to insinuate the hope for Monty if he doesn’t give up on himself. It’s truly haunting, The score is intense, dramatic, and keeps a dark sense of doom in the back of your mind. At first viewing, I thought the score was a little much, but later I realized nothing could be more fitting as you’re heading to a tough, maximum security in prison… for seven years. Lee used some really fascinating camera work to build up this piece as more than just a brilliant narrative, but something that’s enchanting to look at. This is one of those rare cinematic pieces that, despite it’s few flaws, will remain with you for a long, long time to come.