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25th Hour Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/12/2003

Spike Lee is definitely a hit-or-miss director for me.  I haven’t liked everything he has ever done, but I like most of it.  I was one of the few people that didn’t hate his last theatrical movie, Bamboozled (though I thought the HBO TV movie "Dancing in September" made its point better.)  His new film, 25th Hour, is one of the good ones.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is a drug dealer who had decided to go straight, but before he gets that chance, he is busted by the feds.  He is given a seven-year prison sentence.  He decides to spend his last night of freedom with his two best friends, Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper.)  Jacob is a nervous high school teacher who's disturbingly attracted to one of his underage students, Mary D' Annunzio (Anna Paquin), who likes to flirt with him (mainly for her own advantage, because she figures the flirting might make him change her grade.)  Frank is a successful investment banker who is frustrated that he or Monty's live-in girlfriend, Naturelle Riviera (Rosario Dawson), didn’t stop Monty before he got in trouble.  After having dinner with his father, James (Brian Cox), and before meeting his drug lord boss, Uncle Nikolai (Levani Outchaneichvili), Monty goes out with his friends and Naturelle (who he thinks is the one who turned him into the feds.)  He also meets up with Nikolai's Ukrainian henchman, Kostya Novotny (Tony Siragusa), a guy who helps save the dog (that Monty names Doyle) that they discover near death at the beginning of the movie.  As his last 24 hours of freedom comes to an end, he needs to prepare for jail, resolve some personal and business issues, and possibly decide on some alternative forms of action concerning his freedom.

It’s almost a given that Norton is great in this movie, but I give kudos all around for the acting.  Cox (who seems to have been in every other movie released in the last year) gives another emotional performance.  Pepper and Paquin fit their roles perfectly.

There were a few odd casting choices in this movie though.  As hard as I try, I could not see Dawson as a Puerto Rican.  There are many talented Latino actresses that could have fit that role better.  I also had a problem with Hoffman’s character.  I liked his acting (I usually do), but I thought that the character didn’t seem like he would actually be a friend to Monty and Frank in real life.

Other than the casting choices, the only other problem I had was with the floating scenes.  Lee has two staples to his movies: a scene where there is quick editing as the main character talks directly to the camera, and floating scenes.  Both are in this movie.  A floating scene is when a character in moving down a hall, but you don’t see them walking, so they appear to be floating.  They are always a little annoying, but fortunately, they are kept at a minimum here.

There is one poignant scene in the movie involving New York’s Ground Zero.  As Frank and Jacob meet up at Frank’s high-rise apartment, they look out his window overlooking Ground Zero.  It is a long scene and it is interesting how they discuss Monty picking up the pieces of his life as the bulldozers are picking up the pieces of the World Trade Center.

Aside from the quick edit scene, 25th Hour is a slow moving movie, which might bore some people.  I wasn’t one of them, but I just thought I’d warn you.  This certainly isn’t one of Lee’s or Norton’s best movies, but it is a enjoyable one.  It might not fit everyone’s tastes, but it is definitely one of the better movies being released in January (although it was released in limited release in December for Oscar consideration.)  If you are a fan of Spike Lee, I don’t think you will be bored.


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