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25TH HOUR

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
Director: Spike Lee
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2003

“This is our last night.”

“No. No, no. It’s not our last night. It’s MY last night.”

Film ****

Spike Lee, one of our most important voices in cinema, has made quite a bold move in making 25th Hour, which is certainly one of the director’s finest films to date. Besides applying his usual and thought provoking touch, Lee made a conscious effort to make the first movie to be filmed entirely in New York City following the terror of 9/11. Anyone who’s a follower of Lee’s work will quickly note that he has a lot of love for New York, as it has been the setting for many of his films, in addition to his known love for the Knicks. The decision to shoot and set the story of 25th Hour in post 9/11 times is bold maneuver for Spike Lee to execute, and the result is not only of the most brilliant films of 2002, but one of Lee’s all time best.

25th Hour is an extraordinary character piece about a fallen man who is about to endure his last day of freedom before being sent away to prison for a seven year term. The man is Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), who prior to his arrest and conviction was a very happy man with a beautiful woman at his side and what seemed to be a never-ending joy of the high life. Monty was in the business of selling drugs for a powerful Russian cartel. Then one day, the DEA pops up at his place with a search warrant, and Monty is caught red handed, with no other options but to take what’s given to him.

The film is intercut with various flashbacks. The very first scene has Monty, in his drug dealing days, rescuing a dog off the streets that has been nearly beaten to death. His reason for doing this isn’t quite clear at first, but is revealed later in the movie. Cut to the present, and Monty is clearly a man of guilt, sadness, and frustration. He rejects a frequent customer on sight, illustrating he hates the man he was. His relationship with his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), has been somewhat downhill ever since his conviction for two reasons; many of the things they have came as a result of Monty’s business, and he somewhat suspects her as the one who gave him up to the DEA.

The center piece of Monty’s final 24 hours of freedom is a late night get together with his two closest friends, Frank (Barry Pepper), a hotshot Wall Street trader, and Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school English teacher. In a stunning sequence, which takes place in Frank’s apartment, overlooking the actual Ground Zero site, the two engage in a bitter state of words regarding their friend, and in particular, his future. Frank acknowledges Monty’s options, none of which are good. They are running away, a bullet to the head, or serving time. If he ends up serving the time, it will be all over for him when he gets out.

Like all classic Spike Lee films, this one covers multiple character ground. We get glimpses of the lives of his friends prior to their get together at a nightclub. Frank, earns a decent living, but also happens to be a self-absorbed womanizer. Jacob, meanwhile, is fighting his temptation to get involved with one of his students, Mary (Anna Paquin), who dresses somewhat provocatively. There are also scenes involving Monty’s dad (Brian Cox), a former fireman who now runs a Staten Island bar. While dealing drugs, Monty periodically gave his dad money to pay off debts. His father was never approving of his business, but because he was once a drunk, and that Monty’s mother died prior to that, the father very much blames himself for his son’s actions.

Any film of Spike Lee’s carries with it a distinct visual style, and much of the powerful impact of 25th Hour comes from the knockout cinematography work by Rodrigo Prieto (8 Mile). The film has many stunning sequences, but the most brilliant of all is where Monty, or rather his reflection in a mirror, delivers a startling hate speech towards every single minority group, including race, sex, religion and so forth. The sequence has such a strong power, that it remained in my head long after I first saw the movie. It may come as a surprise to find out that Lee, known for causing controversy on such issues, had nothing to do with the creation of this scene. It came right from the pages of the original novel by David Benioff, who adapted it into a screenplay.

Edward Norton is an actor I have sung the praises of ever since his brilliant debut in Primal Fear, and he has delivered one magnificent performance after another. He’s had a marvelous track record of strong performances, including The People vs. Larry Flynt, Rounders, American History X, and Fight Club. His performance in 25th Hour is honestly one of his most outstanding turns to date. He conveys both the sad and bitterness of this character, along with the shrewd cockiness of the man in his early drug dealing days. Norton magnificently creates the kind of unlikely character whom you end up feeling sorry for in the end. The supporting cast is a knockout in addition, as Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver memorable performances, and Brian Cox’s portrait of a regretful father is quite stirring, and a speech he delivers in the end over a series of events is a moment that I think will strike anyone’s emotions.

25th Hour is a shining hour for Spike Lee, and is one of the most brilliant character pieces I’ve seen in the last few years. Blending in a powerful story of a man’s final day of freedom with a sense of a contemporary, post 9/11 feel, Lee has created a bold and very moving masterpiece.

Video ****

This is a stunning transfer of a movie in a way you may not quite expect. If you’re at all familiar with the visual touch Spike Lee applies to his films, such as Clockers or Summer of Sam, you know what to expect. It adds an effect to the movies, and the look of 25th Hour is superbly brought to life in this grand looking disc from Touchstone. Such other sequences, including the extended nightclub sequence which is shot in striking bright blue, are incredible to look at in the anamorphic form. Absolutely a top quality transfer, as well as one of the best looking discs of the year.

Audio ****

This is, without a doubt, the most outstanding audio transfer of any Spike Lee film I’ve seen on DVD. First of all, I was caught by surprise that the disc was THX-certified, which ensured a remarkable sound. Right from the opening scene, the audio range is simply strong and undying. The superb score by Terence Blanchard, Lee’s frequent collaborator, enhanced for a maximum effect, and the many songs played in the nightclub sequence, including a killer update of the classic “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash, really bring up the boom. In addition, many of the technical tricks that Lee includes here payoff big time.  Touchstone really outdid themselves on this release.

Features ****

Some really nice extras are featured, including two commentary tracks; one with Spike Lee and one with screenwriter/novelist David Benioff. There is also a well done documentary titled “The Evolution of an American Filmmaker”, which traces Spike Lee’s filmmaking career all the way to 25th Hour. Rounding out the disc are deleted scenes, and a short titled “Ground Zero”, which is a tribute to the Twin Towers.

Summary:

25th Hour is a striking character piece, and one of director Spike Lee’s most brilliant films to date. Anyone looking for a film of sharp power and emotion shouldn’t hesitate. One of the best films of 2002!