25th Hour May 21, 2019 19:11:59 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on May 21, 2019 19:11:59 GMT -5
25th Hour (2002)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
From left: Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, and Barry Pepper.
Spike Lee's 25th Hour opens with a casual glide over Manhattan at dusk, scored to lush, meditative jazz music (the work of the incredibly gifted Terence Blanchard, a frequent collaborator of Lee's). The cornerstone of this montage is the presence of two tall, illuminated columns representing the recently fallen Twin Towers. In many ways, 25th Hour is one of the best post-9/11 movies because it's both not about the devastating terrorist attacks and tethered to the raw grief of the survived and bereaved.
Shortly after this somber opening, we meet Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), who is set to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for drug dealing. The bulk of the picture revolves around Monty's last day of freedom. The son of a retired firefighter (Brian Cox), who now owns a neighborhood saloon where fellow first responders meet for a cold one, or lately, to mourn, Monty has a fine life on the surface. You likely wouldn't feel unsafe if he crossed your path on the sidewalk. In some aspects, his life is enviable. He's got a beautiful girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), a loyal dog, whom he rescued after he found him left for dead on the street one evening, and a swanky apartment in Upper Manhattan. But his last day of freedom is filled with concern and tightly capped emotions as he says goodbye to his father and two closest friends, settles the score with Russian mobsters, and tries to determine whether or not it was Naturelle who gave his name to the cops, prompting the search of their apartment that will soon cost him the better half of a decade.
Francis (Barry Pepper) and Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are Monty's friends, and their personalities could warrant two separate films as well. Francis is an arrogant Wall Street banker, who is so sure of himself that he claims he's within the 99th percentile for eligible bachelors in New York City. He puts Jacob, a high school teacher, in the 62nd. Jacob's biggest demon of the moment is a guilty crush on one of his students (Anna Paquin), who is already disgusted at him after he gives her a B- on a paper. Jacob makes it abundantly clear he won't capitalize on the feelings or make any advances, but the fact that he even has a crush on a young woman makes him worried enough.
Between Monty, Francis, and Jacob, you get three distillations of manhood: conflicted, pompous, and neurotic. In Monty's case, his lingering anxiety about prison comes from a deep-seated fear of being raped or emerging from confinement a changed person. He has a tough-talking edge in conjunction with a nervous one; a side of him that makes clear he was once a boy who took the wrong path and never saw a fine opportunity to abandon his life of dirty money. We can piece fragments of Monty's upbringing through passing footnotes — we know he was kicked out of an elite private school for dealing marijuana — but we never get the entire picture.
It really doesn't matter because Lee and writer David Benioff (who wrote the novel on which the film is based) keep things so character-driven and emotion-centered that it might've appeared frivolously expansive if we were burdened with flashbacks. 25th Hour is meant to be hyper-focused on the present, which could explain why cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (who would later go on to do award-worthy photography for Babel and Brokeback Mountain) casts a dreamlike haze over the film at times.
Spike Lee keeps a lot of his blunt, interrogating filmmaking techniques in check. He allows the conflicting moods of celebration and loss of life seep into the visuals of the story, while a pressing, disturbing reality sometimes usurps the fictitious narrative Benioff has so gently crafted. At one point, it's as if Lee snaps, in a sequence involving Monty monologuing before a graffiti-laden mirror in a restaurant bathroom, triggered by the words "FUCK YOU" scribbled so boisterously on the glass. Monty unleashes a verbal firestorm, directing that statement to the five boroughs of New York City and the diverse groups that make them up. His words are so succinct yet descriptive that the scene will remind any Lee fan/enthusiast of the famous "sound-off" sequence in Do the Right Thing. But where you felt that the characters in that film — whether they were a white cop bloviating stereotypes about Puerto Ricans or an Italian jock reiterating his disgust with blacks — genuinely felt the hatred they were spewing, Monty backpedals soon after letting all the words run off his lips. He knows who ultimately deserves that statement on the mirror, and it's staring back at him the whole time he's pushing blame.
Elevating 25th Hour to greatness is the litany of strong performances from top to bottom. Edward Norton is the right balance of measured and explosive, and proves that whether he's downplayed or destructive, as in American History X, he's someone your eyes are drawn to in almost any instance. Pepper and Hoffman are the perfect secondary characters insofar that they humanize their individual characters but don't redirect focus away from Norton's Monty. Although relegated to the sidelines, the time Dawson, Paquin, and Cox get is also well used and emphatically adds to an already strong film.
Speaking of Cox, a sequence liable to produce tears and unexpected moments of silence from viewers is the closing monologue from Monty's father, who tells him of his son's looming fork in the road; you can probably infer it just on the basis of the premise alone. It's a gentle revelation about essentially stealing the American Dream, but nonetheless achieving it in such a big way, one that would require tremendous defiance, bravery, and a little bit of luck. The ambiguity we're left to chew on might just make you sit and watch the credits in silence a little longer than you had planned. Brian Cox has never been more arresting. Spike Lee has never been so far away from his comfort zone and so successful to boot.
Starring: Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Tony Siragusa, and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. Directed by: Spike Lee.