#5 25th Hour

July 22, 2016

 

The grandest and most stunning surprise from his catalogue, this film deviates from almost everything you’d expect from a Spike Lee joint on the surface, yet within it’s heart and soul it embodies Lee’s finest qualities of filmmaking altogether. At first glance it is visibly noticeable where this film is different than the rest, as where Lee’s work had always been known to be rich in minority and ethnic culture, this film revolves around the other side of New York City where the faces are pale and the most prevailing culture is wealth and affluence. A famed depiction of the big apple throughout the likes of Midtown and Wall Street, the imagery and the story told is certainly an alteration from his formula at least cosmetically, though after taking a closer look it becomes apparent that the message is exactly what Lee has always been known for. In it’s essence the film is about people and how the choices we make determine our outcomes, with the underlying theme that suggests that even if you share the same demographic you aren’t likely to share the same pleasures or pain.

 

                               buy or rent 25th Hour now!

           

           Edward Norton plays Montgomery Brogan who is a charming white collar drug dealer whose fortune has recently run out, as he has been pinched by the DEA and is now facing a seven year prison sentence. The story picks up where Monty has 24 hours before he has to turn himself in, and as he reflects upon his past mistakes he visits his family and friends in hopes of some perspective. The main storyline undoubtedly revolves around Monty’s strained relationships, as on his path to a life of luxury he ultimately drifted away from his closest childhood companions, played exceptionally by Barry Pepper and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Pepper plays Francis Slaughtery, a womanizing hot shot stock trader who also lives the fast life under the ruse that his trade is as moral as it is legal, thus deep down he believes Monty is a criminal and deserves what’s coming to him.

          As a polar opposite Seymour Hoffman plays Jacob Elinsky, a timid yet intelligent school teacher who is unmarried and ashamed to currently have a crush on one of his students. [It is important to note that all three men are vastly different from one another, similar to the Italian characters in Do The Right Thing along with so many other examples from Lee’s films, which stay true to the idea that your skin color doesn’t inevitably represent your personality]. Yet all the same, on the eve of Monty’s imprisonment the three put their differences aside and come together to give their old friend a proper send off, leading to dramatic developments that makes Monty question who his true friends really are.

                                    buy or rent 25th Hour now!

           

           While it’s evident that Monty plans to enjoy his final of hours of freedom, he is also noticeably stressed and overwhelmed by the magnitude of his situation, mainly in regards to the uncertainty of how he got pinched. As the DEA made it painfully clear that they already knew where the drugs were hidden, there was never any doubt that somebody close to him had betrayed his trust, therefore begging the question as to who had the intel and the motive to stab him in the back. As far as he knows only his girlfriend Naturelle Riviera (played seductively by Rosario Dawson) and his bodyguard Kostya Novotny (played intentionally hilarious by Tony Siragusa) could have sold him out, and Kostya (who also works for the same Russian Mobster as Monty) has convinced him that it was his girlfriend who indeed sold him up the river. As the day turns into the night Monty gets closer to the truth, a truth that he finds out is almost inconsequential as it doesn’t change the fact that after tonight his life will never be the same.

 

                            buy or rent 25th Hour now!

           

           The story and screenplay are written by David Benoif (co-creator of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones) and with Lee’s direction the film hits every single note with grace and authority. There are honestly too many memorable scenes to name, yet even still there are a few stand out moments that encapsulate the film as a whole, highlighted by an act of vitriol by Monty when he looks in the mirror and condemns the city around him for his circumstances before finally pointing the finger at himself. That particular scene is everything the term’ viral’ was made for, as every single culture, orientation, and identity is excoriated with inflammatory statements one by one, in a way so clever that even as you cringe at the ignorance you can’t help but appreciate just how well the ignorance is framed. The intensity of the monologue only increases as it unfolds, and it culminates with a passionate denouncing of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden within the hostile climate of a post 9/11 New York City. In fact, considering it was filmed and released only a year after the worst act of terrorism in modern time, the film in retrospect has often been linked to the tragedy itself, giving it an added mystique that only bolsters a film that already stands on its own.

 

                          buy or rent 25th Hour now!

             

           Not to be out done by a stimulating night club scene that has far more thrills than these old friends had bargained for, is the final moments of Monty’s freedom, a masterful climax where Lee puts his genius on full display and showcases why he is indeed the finest director of the time period. Following a heartbreaking, dramatic scene where Monty gives Jacob his beloved dog to care for and pressures Francis into beating him to a pulp to alter his appearance, is the second and final monologue of the film that is powerful enough to bring you to tears. In this final scene Monty’s father drives him towards Otisville Prison and shares with him a fantasy, an alternate future where he keeps driving West and they never look back. Within this hypothetical universe Monty settles in a small town and changes his identity. He misses his friends and family back home but he’s strong enough to start over, knowing his only hope for freedom is to leave it all in the past. Yet as time goes by maybe he reaches out to his one true love, and maybe they start a family and he becomes a father or even a grandfather one day. And maybe when they’re all grown up he sits down and he tells them everything, he tell them his story, he tells them “just how close this life was to never happening.” As the dream sequence fades you see Monty back in the car with no indication of where he’s headed, an ambiguous ending and an exclamation point to an absolutely perfect film.

 

 

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