Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
MPAA Rating: (for strong language and some violence)
Running Time: 2:14
Release Date: 12/19/02 (limited); 1/10/03 (wide)
Review by Mark Dujsik
Spike Lee’s newest film 25th Hour takes place in post-9/11 New York City, and intellectually, I understand the decision. The setting is there to reiterate the themes of loss and sadness. The atmosphere is certainly relevant, but emotionally, the juxtaposition never really impacted me. The closest the movie comes to achieving an affecting moment with the scenario is during the opening credit sequence in which two beams of light subtly form almost angelic representations of the World Trade Center. I appreciate Lee’s audacity to acknowledge the fact that the event happened, that it has left a severe effect on people, and that it needs to be confronted intelligently in film, but ultimately, the movie is not about post-9/11 New York or America and does not delve into the subject enough to make it wholly relevant to the actual material at hand. The substance of 25th Hour is the tale of a man coming to grips with the fact that his life as he knows it is about to come to an end. It features a number of scenes of individual power that, ultimately, do not add up to a film of the same level.
Montgomery Brogan (Edward Norton) is preparing for a going away party. His closest friends will be there to celebrate into the late hours of the night. Jakob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a high school English teacher at a prestigious school, and Frank Slaughterly (Barry Pepper) is a successful Wall Street stock broker. The two come together before the party to decide how best to handle the night ahead of them. Monty’s father James (Brian Cox) runs a local bar and has a heart-felt talk with his son before sending off to enjoy his last night. He wants to drive him so his son won’t have to take the bus. Monty’s girlfriend Naturelle Rivera (Rosario Dawson) waits for him at their apartment, where Monty remembers when everything went wrong. That day, a few DEA agents arrived at the apartment with a search warrant and discovered a stash of cash and drugs hidden in the sofa cushion. Now, Monty is preparing for his last night of freedom. In the morning, he will turn himself into the authorities and begin serving a seven-year prison sentence.
The movie works in a few major ways. First and foremost, there are times of crushing realization about what the situation means to Monty. There’s an overwhelming desperation about this scenario, and there a few ways it can work out, all of which mean that he must give up his life. If he goes to jail, seven years will pass, people will change, and there’s a strong probability that the Monty who entered prison will not survive. If he goes on the lam, he will be forced to leave everything and everyone behind to escape the possibility of capture. The last option is to kill himself. On another level, we only feel sympathetic toward Monty to the extent that the lot he’s dealt is devastating. Instead of sympathizing, though, we are allowed to understand Monty. There’s an overpowering scene in which Monty discovers an obscene phrase in the bathroom (the same one Holden Caulfield discovered in the grade school) that incites a ceaseless rant of hate and blame. Once he indicts himself for his actions, we realize we’re looking at a pretty complex character, and Edward Norton’s portrayal is formidably on target. The movie doesn’t glamorize or appease his past. We see the results of Monty’s work early on when a former buyer in complete disarray confronts him. Later in the movie, a flashback shows the same person in his prime.
Even his friends are torn by the circumstances. Frank hates the idea of his friend going to jail, but on a certain level, he feels that it’s what he deserves for profiting off the agony of others (of course, a stockbroker who profits off the desperation of others condemning someone in this fashion is an overlooked irony on Frank’s part). The interaction between these two characters is the start of the movie’s problems. Eventually the scenes of Monty’s impending doom are played against the development of other characters and their own conflicts. Jakob’s main dilemma is confronting an infatuation with one of his students, played by Anna Paquin. Frank has a more considerable change to undergo, as his loyalty to Monty—oft-spoken but seldom shown—is put to the test. There’s a fight scene later in the movie that’s nearly devastating. These scenes, though, ultimately only impede momentum, and the supporting characters aren’t developed well enough to justify the considerable shift in focus. There’s also the added baggage of needing to eventually reveal the person who sold Monty out.25th Hour’s rhythm is its crucial and unfortunate undoing. There’s also the final set of sequences in which the movie raises a possibility, which, at first, leaves us wondering if it is fantasy or reality. Eventually, it’s pretty clear. The sequence plays on for a few minutes, but then reality is only given a few seconds to set in. The main problem with the penultimate sequence is that it is not a look at a life that could have been but at a life that still could happen. The last card Lee plays in the movie is hope. What the movie needs and never accomplishes is a finalization of the real situation at hand, which is the farthest thing from hopeful.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.