In a year of rather disappointing and flaky movies, it is refreshing to see a serious, character-driven drama about the mistakes in life and the choices we make. Director Spike Lee's latest film, "The 25th Hour," is about just that: What could you have done to change your life? What would you do in your last 24 hours of freedom? What would you do if you had a choice?
Edward Norton leads an all-star cast of Brian Cox (Hannibal Lecter in "Manhunter"), Rosario Dawson ("Men in Black II"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Punch-Drunk Love"), Anna Paquin ("X-Men"), and Barry Pepper ("Saving Private Ryan"). To say the least, most of these actors are consistently excellent, and choose their films very wisely (guess which one is a big exception... hint: "Battlefield Earth").
Norton, like usual, is stunning. Every role he's been in, including "Death to Smoochy," has been uniquely different and top notch. In "Primal Fear" he was a stuttering murderer; in "American History X" a reformed skinhead; in "Keeping the Faith" a kindly priest; and in "Death to Smoochy" an idealist kid's show host. In "The 25th Hour," he returns most closely to his character in "American History X," a man who has done wrong in the past and is only now, after it is too late, realizing what he has done. The intensity of "Hour's" Monty Brogan is strong, but nothing compared to the hateful thing he was in "American History X," which will cost him an Oscar nomination; nonetheless, this is one of the finest performances I have seen all year. His performance is defined by a single scene in which he bashes every single person in New York by name (eg. "Fuck the Pakistanis, Fuck the basketball players that take five steps and don't get called from traveling, fuck the priests that put their hands down boy's pants, fuck Osama bin Laden, fuck the Korean grocers, and so on and so forth"). Here is a very angry man that is going to be put away for seven years; how would you feel?
His acting is complimented by great performances all around. Rosario Dawson oozes with sexiness while at the same time turns in her best performance to date (of course, I won't even count "Men in Black II" as a performance). Barry Pepper, though he has made some poor career choices in the past, is top notch here, a man who is in control yet really isn't. Anna Paquin continues to choose roles wisely, here portraying the seductive, forbidden fruit. Philip Seymour Hoffman, surprisingly, is the least commanding out of the cast, but even his not-so-good is pretty damn good. Kudos must go to Brian Cox, though, who has reinvented himself in the last few years, showing up in countless films and turning in countless good performances. He has a very small role in "The 25th Hour," but like Norton's spiel about how he hates New York, Cox is given the chance to do a powerful segment at the end of the film. Endings make or break a film, and Cox single-handedly sets it in the right direction.
Spike Lee has churned out another great picture, but he wisely stayed clear of the racial story for a change. He has become type-casted as a race-only director, which is really unfair because he is one of the smartest directors of modern day. "The 25th Hour" has all of the incredible shots and complex characters that his other films do, only without the racial overtones which probably drive a lot of audiences away. Here, he is really allowed to open up, showing that he can deliver other messages. Then again, "The 25th Hour" may be his greatest race-driven movie yet. Though hardly a minority shows up in the entire course of the film, "The 25th Hour" is partially about hate, and hate leads to racism. During Norton's spiel about New York, we see another wise competent and non-racist man unleash his hate against everyone, including blacks, Asians and most definitely Middle Eastern people. This is the very root of racism, the very root of so much stupidity that consumes so many people. Everyone is afraid, everyone can be hateful.
"The 25th Hour" is a well done film that only suffers from one thing, and that is length. It is not literally a long movie, but feels overly extended at times, especially during the nightclub sequences. Had fifteen minutes been chopped out, it would have been much better. That being said, the powerful ending that Lee and Cox deliver makes up for much of the slow parts.
It isn't the best film of 2002, but "The 25th Hour" is one of the better movies to come along this year. Leave it to Spike Lee to deliver something a little racy and different, not afraid to be risky. After all, this is the first film to directly deal with September 11; perhaps it is the first film in a while to directly deal with what people are thinking and why they are they thinking the things they are.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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