25th Hour (2002)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Drama, Crime Drama  |   Release Date - Dec 20, 2002 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 135 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Derek Armstrong

It's no surprise that a consummate New York filmmaker -- especially one who wears his heart on his sleeve -- should direct the first mainstream film that wrestles openly with the aftermath of September 11th. Less expected was that Spike Lee would so cleverly absorb those themes into the subtext of an unrelated story about a pinched drug dealer, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), indulging his final freedoms before going up the river. Granted, Lee's trademark sledgehammer approach does have its moments in The 25th Hour, such as when Monty's rage erupts in the form of a diatribe against New York's spectrum of ethnic and socioeconomic archetypes, an echo of Do the Right Thing. However, the fact that this aggressive defamation of the city's populace doubles as an ode to its diversity gets at the contradictory nature of post-traumatic New York -- it's more wary and distrustful than ever, yet eager to rebound toward glory. Norton's Monty Brogan serves as a stand-in for the American people, his complacency destroyed by a rude awakening, then quickly replaced by fears of a murky future. Norton leads a dynamite ensemble that includes typically strong performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Rosario Dawson, and Brian Cox, as well as a career-best showing from Barry Pepper as Monty's best friend, a hotshot broker bound to the condemned man for one last favor. As always, Lee's provocative dolly shots, long takes, and collage-like edits make his camera a vital addition to the cast, able to frame this loss of innocence in all of the city's familiar corners. And in the film's memorable coda, Lee does find that magic hour, the home of something he and other shell-shocked Americans desperately need: illogical hope.