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:: The 25th Hour

In 24 hours, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is going to prison for seven years. After a long and successful career as a drug dealer, he finally gets busted and has to say goodbye to his life as he new it. On his last day outside, Monty tries to resolve his relationship with his ex-alcoholic father, and plans to spend the night with his oldest friends, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Slaughtery (Barry Pepper). His girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) is anxious to be alone with Monty, but he is trying to discover whether she or someone else gave him up to the police. In his last day as a free man, Monty attempts to resolve the most important questions any of us will face: whom can we trust, whom do we love and what makes our lives meaningful?

The script is based on David Benioff’s novel, which is an unusual choice for Spike Lee who is known as a writer/director (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever). Spike’s contribution to the narrative is to place it in the context of 9/11, though he claims this was simply to reflect how New York has changed rather than an overt political statement.

As a relationship drama, The 25th Hour is suspenseful, harrowing and profound story telling. The film is a pressure cooker of deception and denial that slowly builds to boiling point over the course of the film. The cast is sublime. It’s virtually impossible to single any actor above the rest though it’s worth giving a mention to Anna Paquin’s riveting cameo as the reckless Lolita who promises certain ruin for Jacob. Curiously, the performance direction feels a little blunt and emphatic at the beginning of the film, but as the narrative stakes increase, they feel more appropriate to the situation.

The 9/11 aspects of the film were never present in the book, which was written previous to that catastrophic event. It is unfortunately, the greatest weakness of the film and feels artificially metaphorical in what is a very organic emotional drama. Lee tries to expand Monty in to ‘god’s lonely man’, a metaphor for the power and ironic vulnerability of America itself. In a visually impressive montage sequence he is imbued with all the racist, isolationist anxiety that is sweeping the country and engages in an implausible ‘good Monty, bad Monty’ dialectic on these issues.

That said, it’s a brave and interesting choice and does not spoil what is otherwise, a flawlessly drawn story of redemption and loss. Unmissable cinema!