25th Hour (2002), Run-time 125mins, Cert 15.

Director - Spike Lee.

Writer - David Benioff.

Starring - Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox & Phillip Seymour Hoffman.


Premise - Monty (Edward Norton) is a New York drug dealer that is going to jail for a seven year stretch in a matter of hours. He spends his final day sorting out his affairs and meeting with his dad (Brian Cox), his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and his two best friends (Phillip Seymour Hoffman & Barry pepper).

Wow, what an amazing film. Spike Lee’s latest ‘joint’ is light on plot, but heavy on character work and emotion. Set in a post 9/11 New York, 25th Hour is a powerful and affecting look at how relationships and people are affected by a difficult, life changing event.

There really isn’t much of a story here; Monty just goes about his business on his last day of freedom. There is a bit about who may have grassed him to the DEA and a thread involving Hoffman’s character, but for the most part we are presented with a character study of people facing up to their actions and morality.

Lee has gathered a superlative cast for this film. Edward Norton has a string of amazing movies behind him and 25th Hour is up there with the best of them. Monty is a crook, we know this, he deserves his time, but as the film moves on and we see him interact with his friends and family we empathise with him. Through Norton’s stunning performance we feel the trepidation and fear that is now taking Monty over.

Is Monty remorseful? Yes, he’s sorry he got caught, sorry for what he’s put those close to him through, but he is not particularly sorry for the crime he committed. So, we still accept that he has to be punished. Norton is amazing throughout this film, but a few key scenes stick in the mind. None more so that a monologue with himself in a restroom mirror. He goes off into a tirade placing the blame for his predicament on every minority, group, race and gang in New York before finally he settles on an image of himself, the real reason for his current state.

Norton is more than capably supported by some of the best character actors working today. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a joy in any film and I can think of no-one working in cinema today that could have brought this character to life other than him. He is perfect here as a nervous, socially inept, shy lecturer. His sub plot (centring on his infatuation with a nubile student, played by an insatiable looking Anna Paquin) is as involving as Monty’s story and again the viewer, through the performance, feels every awkward moment.

You also have Barry Pepper, who by now has completely banished all memories of Battlefield Earth. His character is a cocky, arrogant, brash Wall Street trader. Pepper imbues the character with a façade that fades as the film moves on and we see the real, raw emotion seeping through. Rosario Dawson is solid as Monty’s girlfriend and also happens to look pretty hot to boot.

Brian Cox (who seems to have been in every film made in 2002) is mesmerising as Monty’s father. He knew of Monty’s ‘work’, but let it go because the money generated helped him out of debt. Because of this he feels incredibly guilty about Monty’s situation, blaming himself for not putting a stop to it sooner. This is a common theme amongst all the characters. They let it go on too long, they knew what was happening, but were either benefiting or were too busy with their own lives to step in.

Cox’s tour de force comes in the final ten minutes or so as the film fleshes out a ‘what if’ scenario. What if Monty took off west and kept his head down? Cox narrates the scene beautifully (amusing to hear the words come from a Scotsman born not 20 miles from my door) and Norton plays it wonderfully. The scene is pure fantasy, but it makes for an uplifting moment in a film that is filled with morose and negativity.

This is not a happy film, it deals with dark emotions, but in the end we see that the events have touched everybody. One thing is for sure none of them will be the same after what has happened, for better or for worse.

Spike Lee shows flashes of visual ingenuity throughout the film. Using some nice techniques to put us inside the characters. But, at the same time he knows exactly when to back off and just let the actors do their thing. These moments are when the film is at its best. The conversations between Monty and the various other characters hit the viewer hard emotionally thanks to both the wonderful acting and the note perfect writing.

David Benioff adapted his own novel for the screenplay and it is a brilliant piece of work. Every character, every scene, every interaction, every relationship is just so believable. These feel like real people, like real family, like real friends. By the end of the film you are drained through the power that the film creates.

Lee uses the backdrop of a post 9/11 New York very subtly. It’s not as in your face as I thought it was going to be. A scene takes place overlooking Ground Zero and it enhances the emotion of the scene rather than taking it over. There are references to the brave fire fighters that died that day and the opening sequence is a clever montage of the light memorial. It’s not overbearing at all and it certainly doesn’t take away from the power of the movie. If anything it accentuates it.

25th Hour is a hard film, but it is ultimately rewarding. Emotionally powerful and draining, boasting award calibre performances from all involved and assured and at times understated direction from Lee. Put simply this is an amazing movie experience and one of the finest films to come from 2002.



Poster Quote – Requiem for a drug dealer.

If you enjoyed 25th Hour then check out – The Rules of Attraction, Summer of Sam.


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