Here is the 4th installment in Sean’s rundown of the 21st Century’s Greatest Films. This time around, 25th Hour.
As Barry Pepper points out “it will never be the same again…”, we are forced to stare at a post 9/11 New York. Spike Lee’s camera does not flinch, he does not shy away from placing the underlying current of the tragic events as the dark backdrop to his masterpiece on human emotion. This 2002 tale of friendship, trust and family is real; its nostalgic flavour makes you question which life paths you will go down and the ones you are currently on at this moment in time.
Convicted drug-dealer Montgomery Brogan (Edward Norton) is twenty-four hours away from a seven-year prison sentence. Monty spends this day re-evaluating his past decisions that led him to this dooming predicament, bonding with his loved ones and figuring out survival methods he may need for his unalterable fate in the joint. Monty is a realist; he recognises the mistakes he made in this day of purgatory – where every little aspect of life is amplified, more concentrated in this transitory state. This Spike Lee motion picture is a riveting eulogy to Monty’s life that is now over.
Norton leads the overflowing well of stellar ensemble cast as the protagonist Monty; he doesn’t over-dramatise the situation, like Robert DeNiro we watch him implode. We observe Monty lose control once in the film’s entirety: spitting out a blistering vitriolic monologue of abuse vilifying every social and ethnic group possible in the bathroom mirror, no one sees this but us. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper star as Jacob Elinsky and Frank Slaughtery respectively – Monty’s socially and economically dissimilar best friends brought together for one last night. Elinsky is a confused self-tortured English teacher whose flair for the language has wounded his social skills, whereas the Wall Street trader Slaughtery’s confidence has benefited from the alpha male environment.
Watching these three New Yorkers converse and dispute, we believe that they are true life-long friends. The youthful Rosario Dawson plays Monty’s compassionate partner Naturelle, while Brian Cox acts as Monty’s self-loathing father who blames his own drinking for his son’s errors. An ambience of dumbfounded pity and guilty sentiment of continued existence float with these characters through the film. The overriding message of this guilt-driven picture is that culpability is in the hands of the bearer and no one else.
Lee is a stylish director, putting the weight of his film on its characters and storyline. He stays true to his vision, illustrating the pure complexity of human connections even amongst close friends and family. Lee orchestrates the complete film in a subdued, almost distressing tone where we peer into a glimpse of the dark and inevitable throughout – there are no laughs or deceptively engineered instants where a character breaks down. Game of Thrones writer David Benioff inscribes the wonderful screenplay: in this profoundly non-illusive dialogue, no words are wasted and every sentence has a meaning.
One scene that stands out for me is in the hectic nightclub scene, where we witness the juxtaposition of two realities simultaneously – one the overpowering hysteria of the external heavy lightning and blasting speakers, the other the sheer depth of thoughts into the inner life of these characters. 25th Hour stands as a haunting dose of reality.