Watching Spike Lee’s masterful “25th Hour” is just watching a master filmmaker at the top of his craft. The film stars Ed Norton, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin and Tony Siragusa. It’s set in New York, as so many of Lee’s films usually are. Specifically, a post 9/11 New York when our prejudices and fears are at their peak. This is a powerful, moving drama that shakes you to your very core once it is over.
Monty Brogan (Norton) has only one day left as a free man before he goes to prison for seven years. He is a drug dealer, who got busted when someone very close to him ratted him out. On his last day on the outside, Monty just wants one more day with the people that are most important to him. The film begins with Monty and Kostny Novotny (Siragusa, doing a surprisingly good russian accent) saving the life of a pitbull, which has been left for dead in the middle of the road. As the film moves on we see that the dog has become a big part of Monty’s life. The journey throughout the day takes us from the apartment that Monty shares with his girlfriend, Naturelle (Dawson) to a nightclub, where there is a “going away party” for Monty. Joining him are Naturelle and Monty’s two oldest friends, Jacob (Pepper), a stockbroker, and Slaughtery (Hoffman), a high school teacher. Things go awry at the club when Mary, one of Slaughter’s students, is trying to get into the same club. Monty, not thinking anything of it, gets her in the club, too. Mixed in with all these scenes, we get a look back at how Monty met Naturelle and the day that he got busted for drugs. Monty must also beware the wrath of Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili), the kingpin of the Manhattan drug scene, who suspects that Monty may try to sell him out in order to reduce his sentence.
There are a lot of deep elements in this film, themes like love, trust and betrayal all shine through, and they all shine through thanks to David Benioff, who adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same name. The film doesn’t try to pull any punches, it is meant to take a harsh look at the fear that Monty, who by all accounts is a good person, feels before he goes into prison. That’s what makes the film standout, is that we aren’t supposed to know what happens once Monty is inside, but what he does with his last day of freedom. What is going through his mind as everything that he loves is being taken away from him? Benioff’s screenplay captures every emotional moment that this one man has in his one last day of freedom.
As much praise as you can throw at David Benioff for his writing, Edward Norton deserves just as much for his acting. There are two scenes in particular that stand out. The first is when Monty is eating dinner with his father, James (Cox), and he has to use the bathroom. He is staring at himself in the mirror, but he sees another version of himself in the mirror, which has an expletive phrase written in the corner. This “other” Monty tells him that this whole thing isn’t his fault, and that the world is to blame for this whole thing. He runs through a laundry list of people who are just as guilty of crimes of society as he is. But the “real” Monty doesn’t listen to this and knows who is to blame for this whole thing. The second scene is near the end of the film when Monty needs a favor from Jacob. Monty is too “pretty” to last in prison, and he needs to get beat up. Jacob doesn’t want to do it because he is Monty’s oldest friend. The scene played by Norton, Pepper and Hoffman is darkly disturbing and poignantly moving all at the same time. The film doesn’t work with anyone but Norton playing this role. How he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for this performance is beyond me.
“25th Hour” is a film that demands to be watched more than once because there are so many elements to the film that you have to watch it multiple times to appreciate the power of the story, the acting, the directing, everything about this film is great. This film is an explosive, heart wrenching drama that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.