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Film review: 25th Hour

Written by Arthur

Review Overview

Cast

8/10

Script

8/10

Resonance

8/10

Rating 8/10

Rating Spike Lee’s moving tale of one man’s last 24 hours of freedom is a poetic portrait of uncertainty, regret, grief and hope.

Director: Spike Lee Cast: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox Certificate: 15 Where to watch 25th Hour online in the UK: Disney+ UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store

“You could make a new life for yourself and live it. Live your live the way it should have been.” Those are the words of James Brogan (Brian Cox) to his son, Monty (Edward Norton), as Monty faces his final 24 hours of freedom. A convicted drug dealer, he’s preparing to turn himself in the next morning and go behind bars. Before then, he spends a day catching up with the people in his life that matter, settling unsettled business.

What ensues is a brooding and melancholic portrait of an introspective figure, who strolls the streets of New York accompanied by his dog, a loyal, fierce Pit Bull. But these streets of New York are not the streets we’re used to seeing in cinema: Spike Lee’s drama is filmed in the aftermath of 9/11, and the wounds and rubble are still lingering in the background. Where other films at the time studiously avoided showing the site of the World Trade Center, with some even removing the Twin Towers in retrospect, Lee made the bold decision not to change anything and keep the tragedy looming over everything – and that decision introduces an undercurrent that resonates throughout what would otherwise be an unrelated story.

Edward Norton is fantastic as Monty, intensely focused and constantly engaged in the world around him. Facing an eight-year stint in prison, Norton captures Monty’s heightened awareness as he reassesses everything through a new, unfamiliar lens. There’s suspicion and distrust, as he tries to confirm whether his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), was the one who turned him in to the DEA; their time together is awkward, as she’s supportive but aware that he suspects something, just as everyone around Monty is aware that he’s not going to be same guy when he comes out the other side of his sentence.

His friends are also present to provide consolation and send him off with a smile: the womanising Frank (Barry Pepper), who knows that after tonight he can just continue with life, and the shy Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a teacher who is preoccupied with a crush on his student, Mary (Anna Paquin). But when they share a moment alone, they make it clear that they don’t know what to say to him. It’s a conversation that happens overlooking ground zero, as clean-up operations are still underway – Frank’s apartment, we learn, is right next to where the Twin Towers were, but he can’t get the right price to sell it so he won’t move. Frank dismisses the whole thing casually, but can’t look at the site directly, while Jacob is haunted by the tragedy that he can’t help but stare.

It’s testament to how good the cast all are that the film tells us as much about them as it does Monty, but the script – by David Benioff, based on his own novel – also uses Monty’s moment of limbo and uncertainty to capture the mood of the city, and country, in the aftermath of 9/11.

An astonishing sequence halfway through see Monty erupting in the bathroom of his father’s bar, as he rants and spits at the mirror, blaming everyone he can think of for his situation from any background conceivable. But it lacks conviction – he winds up, deflated, blaming the only person he can: himself. It’s a moment of clarity that leads him to ask for physical punishment from his friends, less because it’ll stop him being beaten up in prison, and more because he wants to face the consequences of his own past behaviour.

That’s complemented brilliantly by a lyrical sequence at the end of the film, as Monty and his father get into a car and his dad talks about the life that he could live, driving on into the west and starting fresh in a small town where nobody knows who he is. There aren’t many other countries in which such a thought could be plausibly entertained; Lee’s affection for New York, and America, seeps through this poetic sequence, as Monty glides past a sea of faces compassionately seeing him off – all the faces that we previously saw in Monty’s anger-filled, misdirected rant.

The opening titles of the film, which strikingly include the twin floodlights lit up to commemorate the lives lost on 9/11, set the tone for a melancholic piece of reflective cinema, but they also accompany an introductory scene in which Monty finds his dog, injured and bleeding. Rather than put the animal out of its misery, he gets it help, while the dog makes it clear it’s not out for the count. Later, after the dog has been entrusted to a new life with Jacob, Monty knows that his car ride can’t lead to a fantasy happy ending. There’s a sense of disorientation as everyone we meet braces themselves for this period of limbo to end, silently wondering what comes next. But whatever does, 25th Hour doesn’t let us forget that there’s still some fight in this dog left.

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