Overview: A convicted drug dealer lives out his last 24 hours of freedom before serving a seven year drug sentence. Touchstone Pictures; 2002; Rated R; 135 Minutes.
A Crossroads of Career Bests: This film serves as the intersection for two top artists who are in peak form. With apologies to Do the Right Thing, The 25th Hour is Spike Lee’s purest and most impressive film effort. This is due in part to Edward Norton, who, as Monty Brogan, gives a career best performance, and any fan of 21st Century film knows that that is no small statement. Rarely is a drug dealer so humanly available, presented with empathy but not forgiveness. Monty is an antihero whose crimes aren’t mindlessly celebrated or glorified, yet he is a loyal and principled man who has made a mistake and is facing the punishment (If only Scarface and Blow could have figured out this formula).
The Scene that Stands Out: The racially fueled bathroom mirror soliloquy. Lee has always had his pulse on the tensions (racial or otherwise) of his beloved city, and New Yorkers might appreciate this cathartic and fiery diagnosis of the city’s cross-cultural complications. Norton certainly delivers it with a heightened level of intense conviction. The content of the monologue falls right into Lee’s wheelhouse and the brazen, unfiltered chain of “Fuck you’s” is a montage classic (particularly given that it was filmed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, while the country’s short-lived reactionary “togetherness” and “unity” were still being printed as bumper sticker slogans). It is great filmmaking, but, I contend that it is in the wrong film. Defenders of the segment might suggest that this is an interpersonal necessity, Monty projecting his despair onto the city as a means of coping and saying goodbye. However, this movie does not need to dig deeper or borrow trouble. The boiling conflicts between the characters already carry enough tension without involving Monty’s sub-subconscious or all of the boroughs.
The Best Scenes: Near the end of the film, with hours left until incarceration, Monty asks Frank to pummel his face, to make him ugly and unappealing to potential inmate rapists. The propositions wreaks of sadness and lost hope. But, paranoia and anxiety spill over and the ensuing exchange is even more devastating than one might expect from this description. And, then, shortly thereafter, when Monty’s father (Cox) is driving him to the prison to serve his sentence, he describes for his son an alternate scenario, one in which he flees his sentence and raises a family in the mid-west. The editing of this final sequence establishes a gut-wrenching impact and an exhibition in craft that even the greatest filmmakers could admire and learn from.
Overall: Overlooked and under-appreciated, The 25th Hour is a taut, breathless and near perfect dramatic thriller.