25th Hour is a radical departure from the norm for Spike Lee, whose movies normally focus primarily on race. This film poses the question "What would you do if you only had 24 hours of freedom to live life as you know it?" We see our main character, Monty (Edward Norton) grappling with this exact situation, as he is a day away from starting a 7-year hitch for a felony drug conviction, thanks to the Rockefeller Laws. At his side to the bitter end are his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), childhood friends Jakob (Phillip Seymor Hoffman) and Frank (Barry Pepper), and his father (Brian Cox) with whom he has finally made peace. Further accompanying Monty are his faithful dog, Doyle and Russian Mafia Comrade, Kostya (Tony Siragusa).
The movie is slow and deliberate, providing developed vignettes of each character's life; what makes them tick. Frank is a maverick adrenaline junkie NY Enron-style trader whose only raison d'etre is to amass wealth and be in the 90+ percentile of life. Jake, a total Melvin teacher is attracted to one of his students (Anna Paquin), and fights childhood daemons of being a trust fund kid. Naturelle, knowing she's about lose her bread and butter, also realizes that Monty has suspicions of her turning him in to the DEA. Finally, there's Monty's father, who not only feels guilty for not being a better father to his son, but feels partly responsible for his situation.
There are two particular scenes, which stand out in the movie. One is where Monty stands in the mirror and delivers a philippic on every race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ethnicity, industry, and socio-economic affiliation in New York, replete with the "f"-word. One would think this is something that Lee developed himself, but surprisingly it is from David Benioff's novel on which the screenplay was based. The second memorable scene was the conversation between Jakob and Frank, in Frank's apartment that overlooks Ground Zero, where they discuss the fate of their friendship with Monty, and his life in general. Although it seems that a 9/11 reference is inevitable in films nowadays, it isn't shoved down your throat, and the reference here seems appropriate. This scene, lacking color and taking place at night, effectively portrays the drab, grim reality that Monty's life, their friendship with him, and the lives of all who are close to him will face. Just like New York City, they too will never be the same after such a destructive blow.
This motion picture, produced by Tobey Maguire, is very talkative movie, bordering on a modern morality tale. 25th Hour is unique as it has an unhurried, and at times almost stagnant pace. There is a story, but no concrete plot, which doesn't exactly resolve. While it is disclosed who actually betrayed Monty, we don't know what path he takes at his 25th hour. We are left to wonder what becomes of his relationships with the 4 key people in his life, or their fates. Lee has come such a long way from his recent cinematic casualties such as Bamboozled. He hasn't showcased his talents this well since Do The Right Thing.
Finally, Juliette Lewis look alike (well to me anyway), Anna Paquin plays the role of tempting teen adeptly, taking advantage of her ability to play child/teen/adult roles. Also, DJ Cipha Sounds (dubbed DJ Dusk in the movie) makes a cameo and spins an awesome set.
Grade: A -
Notes: Movie is runs 132 minutes.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Spike finally did the right thing himself and made a decent movie for a change.
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