25th Hour review by The Grim Ringler

25th Hour

It can never be said I am a die-hard Spike Lee fan. I love a few of his movies and think he is a terribly talented filmmaker but have never been that interested in his entire body of work. But when the man is on, he is on, and that’s most definitely the case with 25th Hour, one of the best films of 2002.

Edward Norton plays Monty, a man damned by his own misdeeds to spend the next seven years in prison, a place he isn’t even sure he will survive. Monty has one day and night to say everything he has needed to say and to do all he has needed to do before he goes away, and in this day learns more about himself, the city he loves (NYC), and the people he loves and trusts than he had ever imagined possible. Monty was not a man poor of friends of money, the money having been made by way of dealing drugs, and it is that fact that has taken these next seven years from his life. It seems that someone that knew Monty, and that knew where he kept his drugs, informed the local DEA about this and that was how he got busted. And this is a mystery that still haunts him. Was it his girlfriend? Was it his mob connection that got him into dealing in the first place? Was it the mob themselves? Or someone else? During his last day, these are the questions that haunt him, but what haunts him more is that everything is slipping away, and he is running out of time. Monty makes an effort to clean the slate on as many of his relationships as he can, wanting to leave things as best he can, as if he is a dying man that needs to right a few rowboats before he leaves forever. Monty also has one night to be with the two closest friends he has ever had, and to make sure that they remember him. Which is essentially what Monty is doing, more than anything else, he is trying to leave the people he loves with memories of him, hoping they will wash away any anger they might have about his leaving. Monty, nearing the end of his time, gets his friends together for one last night of partying and as the darkness deepens and all of them get progressively drunker, Monty’s fears and their own suspicions about who sold him out begin to surface and the ugliness in all of them starts slipping from between their lips. But before Monty is free completely, and is able to come to terms with his own truth, he must finally break his ties to the people that have held he and his life in sway since he got in with them, the mob, which is easier said than done. And finally, as the sun is rising, and Monty is left with his two closest friends, he must ask one to perform one last favor for him, a favor that tests and might indeed break a friendship that was begun when they were but children. A favor Monty has no choice but to ask, but a favor his friend cannot willingly complete.

I hate to give away any more than that but I have to admit, as good as the plot is, this isn’t a movie about the story as much as it is about the characters and indeed the city of New York. The film, in its tone and feeling, becomes almost a religious film in the end as Monty searches first for the truth of his friends, then the truth of his world, and finally the truth of himself, which is a truth he has avoided for a very long time. But this film also, more than any other piece of film I have seen, honors and memorializes the September 11th tragedy in New York in such a way that its ghost is ever-present but never becomes larger than the characters or the city itself. But it is there, a ghost none in the film can shake. The film isn’t just about Monty either, which was a shock because my impression was that it was his story, but it is in fact as much the story of his friends, father, and lover as it is his own. His friends struggle about what is happening to him and about how much of it is his own fault. One of them, the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays a high school teacher falling under the spell of a student that wants more from him than just a better grade. Monty’s girlfriend must face that she is suddenly alone and must decide how long to wait for Monty, if at all. And Monty’s father too must now deal with the loss of a son not long after he has lost his wife. Finally there too is the favor Monty requests of his friend, a favor that may split all three friends apart and that will change them all forever. And this is why this is such an incredible film – this isn’t about one man, it’s about every life he has touched, changed, and come into contact with, and about the city that has sheltered them all. 25th Hour more than many of the films I have ever seen, gives both a sense of place and a sense of doom to everything that comes to pass. Monty is slowly becoming a ghost to New York and to his friends as the movie progresses, and in the end, while he has options, every one of them will lead him towards a silent future lived as a memory.

This is also a film that has an under-current, hell, a base foundation of symbolism that is so well done that it, again, makes this not just a good film but a great one. The first scene in the film we see Monty save a dog that was used for fighting but has now been thrown from a car to die. The dog, wounded and scared, tries to attack Monty but Monty, ignoring the advice of his mob middleman ‘friend’, doesn’t give up and manages to get the dog into the trunk of his car so he can get it to a doctor. In so doing Monty his bitten on the neck, a thing he laughs off as showing the dog has spunk. And it is this dog that truly does become Monty’s best friend in the end, a friend that he never would have had had he left it to die. And in the end that is sort of the message of the movie – that there are so many lives we touch, we never know whom we save and whom damn but we affect every life we touch. And it also serves as a bit of a parable for New York and its children, that no matter who might try to turn on her, she always takes them in and always looks out for them, even to her own detriment.

Lee is unfortunately fascinated it seems of late with Digital Video and shot this film with it as well, which is a drag because at first it really detracts from the movie, though this slowly dissipates, as you get deeper into the story. He still shows a brilliant flare for facing us with the things we don’t dare say out loud – as seen in one scene in particular where Monty, facing his own image in a mirror, lashes out at everything and everyone he hates in New York. The irony being that those are the very things he has come to love in this city, and the things he will perhaps miss the most. The things that make it New York. The acting is astounding, throughout the entire film, but especially the leads – Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, and Brian Cox. Each creates a real, three-dimensional character that is not one thing but is many, and each makes their moments in the film all the more powerful because they have created such true portrayals. Lee is not a terribly flashy director but he has made a film that resonates with truth and honesty and that will truly become a classic in modern cinema and I would imagine be used in film studies classes. The film is just that good.

Once in a while a film comes along that speaks so much truth, and speaks it so tragically and beautifully that you are dumbstruck at first. Spike Lee has made a number of very good films in his day, but if we were ever questioning how great he might become, he has proven it with 25th Hour. He can now rightly be considered one of the best American director’s making films today, and I urge you to see this powerful film when it hits video.


9 out of 10 Jackasses

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