The 25th Hour is not only one of Spike Lee’s best films, it might even be as good as Malcolm X. The achievement of the The 25th Hour is to take a concept that should be a hackneyed mess and turns it into film of incredible versatility.
Monty has been caught dealing and will begin a seven year sentence the next day. We follow him through that day, with the occasional flashback. In itself, that is not much of a premise. The brilliant part is how that last day is filled in. There are sub-stories involving Monty’s two best friends, played by Pepper and Hoffman. One is a story of ambition, the other a story of desire. Both supporting characters are more complex than the leads in 90% of mainstream films. Meanwhile, Monty is trying to figure out who turned him in to the entertaining goons at the DEA. He also has to find a new home for his dog and say goodbye to his girlfriend, father, and boss. The boss is the tricky one, because Monty wants to sever his ties to organized crime just at the time when his boss must worry about Monty cutting a deal. This and more is set in post 9-11 NYC, which is a pretty big cherry to throw on top.
The point of laying out so much of the premise is to illustrate how much is crammed into this movie. It seems to touch on everything, from T&A to Enron. Even 9-11 is handled well, with neither mawkishness nor corniness. So, if nothing else, The 25th Hour is worth seeing so that you can remember its tastefulness when Jerry Bruckheimer or someone of his ilk makes a 9-11 movie that climaxes with Ben Affleck throwing Osama from a twin tower, then smooching the babe of the month to a power ballad.
The acting is worth mentioning. I usually don’t like to review good acting much because it’s just good. How many ways can you say, “so and so is very charismatic and portrayed his character well?” But the acting in this film is really up there, so, I’ll just go through the list. Ed Norton – well yeah, of course. Norton may have been opposite a superior actor for the first time, however, because the amazing Brian Cox plays his dad. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – well, yeah, of course. Barry “Battlefield Earth” Pepper – I didn’t know he had it in him. Anna Paquin – well, there’s a bit of a hitch here. Paquin seems to think she is on Broadway, but then again, maybe that was just the character. Rosario Dawson – very nice. And yes, that’s former NFL star, Tony Siragusa doing a decent job with a pretty big role as Kostya, the Russia thug.
The best scene of the film is Monty’s diatribe against the population of New York, as categorized by race and social class. Stupid people think the scene is a pointless digression when, in reality, it’s a wonderful expression of rage that dips into the misanthropy Monty must carry. Here’s an intelligent guy from a decent background who becomes a heroin dealer. He must have to despise people a bit to sleep at night. Also, remember, this is post 9-11, when you couldn’t turn on the TV or open a paper without seeing “hurray for New York!!” It’s only natural, then, that someone in Monty’s position would turn around and say, “you know what? Fuck New York!”
The scene has a frankness about race and ethnicity that we rarely see expressed publicly. Lee isn’t afraid to target the foibles that pervade various ethnic groups and he hits the nails on the heads. I laughed at the scene, but a handful of people in the audience were practically pissing themselves. My guess is that they were from NY, like my girlfriend, who was howling.
Later in the film, Monty expresses his like of the diversity and the people of the city but it is not a total recantation of the earlier scene. So the scenes do not pair to form the usual, hokey, contradictory, PC, double mantra of “embrace diversity” and “we are all the same.” It’s more like, “diversity can be a pain in the ass, but it’s interesting and most people are decent.”
The film has a couple of minor flaws. There is a fantastic “Last Temptation of Monty” scene in which Cox describes an ideal life on the lamb for Monty as the father and son drive to prison, but the description, as good as it is, seems to drag on a bit too long. Also, there’s a scene in which Pepper’s character has to do one last unpleasant favor for Monty. The characters act as though the unpleasantness is a horror and the result is melodrama.
Another complaint in some quarters is that the stories don’t resolve themselves. No, all of the various threads do not come together in a neat, happy ending. Sort of like real life. In fact there are little threads that just kind of wander off by themselves and remain completely open when the movie ends. That’s good, not bad. Those who can’t understand that would be better off seeing, oh, I don’t know, Pay It Forward.
This film does nearly everything a movie can. It’s funny, sexy, touching, thought-provoking, gripping, beautiful and clever all without being ostentatious or incoherent.
- Film Overall: 9
- Direction: 9
- Story: 9
- Acting: 9.973
- Rewatchability: 7
Special Ruthless Ratings
- Number of times you wanted to read the book: 4
- Number of times you thought that maybe Lee should have directed Ali after all: 2
- Number of “ER” stars who were in line next to you when you bought tickets: 1 (Julianna Margulies)
When Spike Lee’s obituary is written (and more than a few people are hoping it is tomorrow), he will be remembered, more than anything else, as the director of Do the Right Thing. And that is how it should be, for few films have been as honest and hard-hitting about the issue of race in America. While Driving Miss Daisy that same year was oversimplifying (and trivializing) race relations – by conveniently having the story set in the past – Lee’s film brought us into the bitter, angry present. And, while those who have not seen the film or do not remember it accurately seem to think it was some sort of Afro-centric (and reverse-racist) rant, it was instead striking in its even-handedness. Lee gave us perspectives, not merely the one-sided polemic so many have accused him of producing film after film. Yes, there was “black rage,” but the characters were not merely symbols — flawless and righteous because of their blackness. They were also petty, silly, and just as often, wrong. Since that time, Lee has directed a great American epic (Malcolm X) and several other worthy projects (Clockers and Get on the Bus), but too often he has worked beneath his talents, repeating the same stylistic tricks and not seeking to stretch beyond his usual themes. With his new project 25th Hour, Lee provides moments of great power and insight, but has once again failed to realize greatness in its entirety. Bits and pieces resonate, but the whole is flawed and often directionless.
The film stars Edward Norton as Monty Brogan, a convicted drug dealer spending his last day of freedom before being sent away for a seven-year prison sentence. As expected, Brogan seeks out old friends, has one last chat with his father (the ubiquitous Brian Cox), and hits the club scene with a few pals. While he is trying to enjoy this final day before his literal hell on earth begins, the film uses flashbacks to show us how he met his current girlfriend and, more importantly, how he got caught with cocaine in his couch. Brogan suspects that his girlfriend set him up (a notion his father dismisses outright), but he is uncertain. While the film doesn’t make it a major plot point, it does take an unfortunate detour in that Brogan confronts a fellow gangster in the Russian mafia about his possible role in the drug bust. In fact, I could have done without all of the Russian characters, for even though they add “color” and connect to Brogan’s drug dealing, their presence is both silly and comically sinister. They should be mentioned, but not necessarily seen. Brogan’s story should hold sufficient power without adding cheesy, unconvincing accents parts.
Another subplot that simply didn’t work concerns Brogan’s friend Jacob Elinsky (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in yet another sad-sack portrayal). Jacob teaches English at the same school where Monty met his current girlfriend (and attended as a young lad), and nurses a pathetic crush on a young, tartish student (Anna Paquin). Their scenes together are squirm-inducing (as they should be, I suppose), but add up to nothing in end, except for an unexpected kiss. While I do not object to character-driven films as a rule, I simply did not see how these people had any relevance to Brogan and his plight. Because the film’s primary concern is a man’s self-loathing and fear as he faces a life-changing (or perhaps life-ending) detour, the cheap laughs to be gained by watching Hoffman slobber his way through his typical perversions are distracting at best and represent a weakness at the screenplay level.
The most talked about element of the film is a rant given by Brogan while he looks at himself in the mirror. He is clearly disgusted with his carelessness and flawed choices in life, but as he begins, he attacks the city of his birth – New York City. He blasts Pakistani cab drivers, Korean grocers, black street thugs, Italian gigolos, breeding Puerto Ricans, upper crust women obsessed with plastic surgery, and Wall Street crooks. His monologue is uncompromising, ferocious, and, in its own way, thought-provoking. It is certainly a highlight, for it manages to be funny and revealing at the same time, as Brogan is more than willing to include himself in the parade of losers whom he so obviously despises. Some may think Lee is being a little too clever and self-referential here, for he employed similar attacks in Do the Right Thing, but it has been said that the lines were in the book and not invented by Lee. In any case, such words were refreshing to find in a mainstream release, as I am rarely privileged to hear Jesus Christ told to go fuck himself in any context. Moreover, Lee gives us the broken and shattered New York City, not a digitally “corrected” city without any reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The wounds are still open and characters cannot escape their implications. At the very least, Lee must be applauded for his unwillingness to childishly ignore current events.
The end of the film, where Brogan’s father narrates an “alternate” life for Brogan, is touching without being sentimental. We see what “could have been” or could actually occur if Brogan’s father doesn’t stop the car at the prison gates. I enjoyed that sequence, for it reached just the right note of quiet sadness. After all, reinvention is an essential dream of all human beings, even if such thoughts never leave the safety of our minds. Still, it was only a sequence, and too much of the film wandered without any real place to go. The beginning seemed protracted and dry, and it took me awhile to become involved in the lives of the characters. 25th Hour is an uneven film, not altogether successful, but it manages to squeak by as a minor achievement for Spike Lee.
Special Ruthless Ratings
- Number of times Lee employs his overused trick of a character who appears to be floating: 1
- Number of times I have wished that he would put that film school bullshit to bed: 45
- Number of characters who work on Wall Street: 1
- Number of times his portrayal gave you an excuse to have no sympathy whatsoever for what NYC went through: 4
- Number of times I was amazed that Spike Lee made a film without race at the core: 7
- Number of times I was also thankful that Lee did not insist on making one of his infamous (and horribly annoying) cameos: 99