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2F2F DVD Contest
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Movie Review:
25th Hour
By Matt Singer


It is possible to admire a movie and not particularly like it, and that is how I feel about Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. I feel restricted in writing about it; I had many problems with the film, yet am hesitant to write negatively about it. The story is unfocused, there are numerous unnecessary subplots, but the performances are excellent, and the elements at the core, a man living his last free night before a jail term, are strong. I suppose that makes this film something of a disappointment; it should be better than it is.

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In post-9/11 New York City, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) tries to sort out the loose ends of his life before he turns himself in for seven years in an upstate New York penitentiary for drug trafficking. He has to say goodbye to his father (Brian Cox), his friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and dog. He has to settle up with his supplier, a surly Russian named Uncle Nikolai (Levani Outchaneichvili). And, most importantly, he has to figure out if it was his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) who ratted him out to the police in the first place.

This would be enough raw material to fashion a fine movie from, but Lee and writer David Benioff add more. Pepper and Hoffman’s characters are given a great deal of screentime, as we see them at work, discussing women, even mulling over the the remains of the World Trade Center. A scene between Monty and his father literally takes a bathroom break, in which Monty gets out all his frustration in a bitter rant against the city and its inhabitants.

The 9/11 stuff makes everything in the film seem heavier than it otherwise might be, though none of it is particularly necessary or even relevant. It’s good to acknowledge reality, but the tragedy is not directly related to anything in Monty’s story. The endless references, coupled with a very heavy musical score, make it seem like the film is reaching for emotions it hasn’t earned.

Monty’s rant is well edited and powerful, but is it really in Monty’s character to say something like that? Unfortunately, I’m not sure. Despite the time spent with him, we don’t ever really know Monty, don’t understand why he made the choices he did, and therefore, am less empathetic to his predicament than I otherwise might be. A remorseless drug dealer is a perfectly acceptable protagonist for a film; when the remorseless drug dealer is portrayed in a way that makes him completely inaccessible to the audience, it is not. In his supporting role, Philip Seymour Hoffman creates such a complete picture of his character that he tends to overshadow Norton’s contributions. A few years ago, I saw Hoffman on Broadway in “True West,” a play in which he swapped roles with costar John C. Reilly at alternate performances. I wish 25th Hour worked the same way. (And for a far superior Norton performance in a very similar vein, check out his turn as a reformed skinhead in American History X).

25th Hour is a small story in a big movie. It’s a snapshot film, where one day means all the difference in the lives of the protagonists and we are denied most of the story’s payoffs because there is only so much that can happen in a single day. There are moments, like a stretch of scenes in a New York night club, where Lee matches great performances with arresting visuals, and others, like the lengthy ending, that just feel like something is missing. I want to like 25th Hour, because it has a story worth telling by a filmmaker with passion, but I must admit that I was disappointed by the end result. I am left with more respect than praise.


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