25th Hour (2002) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for strong language and some violence
Running Time: 135 min.

Cast: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa, Aaron Stanford

Director: Spike Lee
Screenplay: David Benioff (based on his novel)
Review published December 23, 2002

After watching Spike Lee's (He Got Game, Clockers) latest joint, 25th Hour, one might begin to suspect Spike has a lot of ideas and an inability to stick with any one of them for very long.  Every scene is just a little bit different than the one the came before, introducing new story elements and cinematic techniques that Lee experiments with, wanting to see if they work, then quickly ditching them for another side story or detour.  For the purposes of enjoying the film, that's not a bad thing at all, as Lee's directorial asides and character explorations gives the film a flavorful variety that it would not have had it stuck to its main storyline, adapted for the screen by David Benioff (Troy, Stay) from his novel of the same name.  It's only after it's all over that you realize that almost nothing is fully resolved within the film by the time you see the credits roll.

Edward Norton (Red Dragon, Frida) gives his typically solid performance as drug dealer Monty Brogan, trying to tie up loose ends with friends before beginning his seven-year prison stint after someone ratted him out to the DEA.  Monty doesn't know who tipped the agents off as to the whereabouts of the drugs and money, as only a couple of people could have known, including his Puerto Rican girlfriend, Naturelle (Dawson, Pluto Nash).  He goes out for one last time with his lifelong friends, Frank (Pepper, Knockaround Guys) and Jacob (Hoffman, Punch-Drunk Love), a stock broker and private school teacher, respectively.  As the hour draws closer, Monty becomes more and more convinced that his chances of survival in prison seem bleak, with his good looks and soft personality, which is likely to get chewed up and spat out among the hardest of the hard.

I must admit that I am not a full-fledged expert on how the penal system works, but I did find the premise of a man being free to walk around the city before his prison stint to be a bit of a curiosity.  Assuming that one is able to do so, Monty's attempts to tie up loose ends perfectly parallels Spike Lee's attempt to string all of the elements of Benioff's script into a satisfying whole.  Monty doesn't and neither does Spike, and in fact, neither comes close to putting it all together in a neat and tidy bow, and the funny thing about this is, 25th Hour still manages to satisfy. 

Oh yes, 25th Hour is a definitely a disjointed experience, flashing back and forth in time without many visual cues, veering between one character's interests to another for seemingly no rhyme or reason except to satisfy Lee's curiosity.  Many allusions are made to the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, which clearly set Lee's mind-frame askew, and although it doesn't quite fit in with the story, his tendency to overindulge might actually be his greatest asset.  It seems almost a contradiction to say that the combination messiness of the plotting, the skewed sense of thematics, and inspired moments of dynamic misplaced narrative, actually makes 25th Hour a much better film.  There really is no plot, no direction, no cohesion, no goal, no ending.  And despite it all, Lee crafts one of the best films of the year.

Not only this, but it's also Lee's most satisfying work since his brilliant Do the Right Thing.  25th Hour shows that he is still a creative force to be reckoned with, drawing out gutsy and spot-on performances by his very talented cast, while still delivering enough food for thought to fill up about ten films.  It's a little talky, a little dour, and a whole lot of creative.  With details and characterizations this rich and memorable, I hope Spike Lee never gets his act fully together. 

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo