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Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is 24 hours from a seven year stretch for drug dealing, and scared our of his wits. What will they do to a good looking young guy in jail? He’s also unsure who tipped off the cops about his stash, and suspects his beautiful Puerto Rican girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson). His farewell party looming, he draws around him his best friend, the stock trader Slaughtery (Berry Pepper) and the university lecturer, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman). And he tries to reconnect with his father (Brian Cox) who feels guilty about the path his son has taken. While his son feels desperate and stupid.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It seems to me that 25th Hour is yet another novel that should not have been made into a film. Despite Spike Lee’s flair and his cinematic instincts, the jump from printed word to photographed action is clumsy, longwinded and pretentious. Sometimes this is done with grandstanding, like the extended sequence overlooking the site of the World Trade Centre terrorist attack. 

Tired camera angles (like melodramatic legs view of characters getting out of cars) and meandering dialogue in scenes without dramatic action drag the subject matter down. And what is the subject matter? Edward Norton is well cast to generate sympathy for his character as a drug dealer, and his soggy apology for getting into the mess he’s in plays more like sorry for himself than sorry for the lives he may have ruined with his trade. He cares more for his dog. But because he’s nice to his girlfriend and wants a rapprochement with his kindly old dad, we are suckered into rooting for him. Oh, and that spew of anger at everyone in New York (otherwise a might-have-been great stand up comedy routine) by Monty talking to his alter ego in the restaurant toilet mirror. 

The sidebar story about repressed Jacob and his 17 year old horny student (Anna Paquin) is misplaced in the film. It should have been thrown out. The relationship with Monty’s best friend Slaughtery is handled with too much clunk, and the establishment of all the characters plays as if scenes were cut-and-pasted from the book, without any regard for cinematic coherence. The multiple streams of relationships are cut down for the screen but not honed. Above all, the notion that Monty can wonder about Manhattan freely and go to a farewell party on the eve of a seven year stretch is too far fetched for credibility. Don’t convicted drug dealers go straight to prison from the dock in New York anymore? Well, actually, writer Benioff explains this in his commentary – see below. Infused with sentimentality (with a matching score) and scenes going nowhere, the film is an insult to Spike Lee’s name. 

Looks and sounds fabulous on DVD, though, and its ponderous mood perhaps inadvertently echoed in the ponderous responsiveness of the navigation. For reasons I can’t fathom, the menu is a fixed, 2-minute loop, with a heavily melancholy/sentimental snatch of the score playing cloyingly over it, while we contemplate our selection to play the movie, see the bonus material, scene selection or go into setup. 

The bonus list starts off with a 22 minute Spike Lee eulogy, canvassing his greatness, his focus, his vision, his resolve . . . it’s a tad too congratulatory and not probing enough to be a genuine profile, but works well enough as a friendly filmography. It also boasts an impressive list of willing praisers, including Martin Scorsese, Wesley Snipes, Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Ossie Davis and John Torturro among others, as well as the cast of The 25th Hour – and Spike himself, of course.

The six deleted scenes are … well, deleted. But they’re here, so it wasn’t a total waste to shoot them.

Then there is Ground Zero: just as the scene of the September 11 2001 terrorist attack on New York has no place in the film, this schmalzy approach to the site, Ground Zero, has no real place on this disc. It’s a six minute clip showing the ruins of the site, the camera panning slowly across the ground in day and night, with sombre music to stir our emotions. What’s the relevance – other than establish that it’s a post September 11 New York?

Spike Lee’s commentary confirms that: he’s obviously deeply moved by the event, as were we all, and folded it into this film, even though it would have been more effective had he underplayed. 

But it’s not a riveting commentary. Lee’s rather droning, monotonous tone doesn’t help. We learn a few things, though, including the fact that Lee shares an agent with the writer David Benioff, which is how he was introduced to the script. 

Benioff’s commentary explains why Tobey Maguire has a producer’s credit: he was the one who first optioned the book in galley form, wanting to play the lead, but Spider-Man came along. Benioff’s intimate knowledge of the story and characters gives him an opportunity to be authoritative. Some of his revelations about his writing are interesting, but hardly enthralling. Still, it puts him, lee, the film and the novel in perspective. 

The most interesting revelation is Benioff’s explanation that some non-violent offenders in New York do not in fact get handcuffed and taken straight to jail on conviction. Perhaps the problem for us is that in the film, the level his crime seems higher than that which would allow him to roam freely. And that it isn’t explained. But at least I feel better now, knowing this fact. 

Published October 30, 2003

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CAST: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa


SCRIPT: David Benioff (from his novel)

RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9, DD 5.1 in English, Spanish, Russian

SPECIAL FEATURES: commentary by Spike Lee; commentary by David Benioff; Evolution of An American Filmmaker; deleted scenes; Ground Zero


DVD RELEASE: October 22, 2003

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