Spike has done it again. Kicking ass and taking names (at least 6 names, if not 7) in 2002, Lee has made a movie that tops even his last masterpiece, Bamboozled
, and ranks among the best 3 or 4 films of his career. We all know The Zach is no stranger to hyperbole, so don't assume I'm just tossing out bullshit here. This movie's the real deal. I assume you're reading this because you've already seen the film. If not, then get the hell out of your house or office and see 25th Hour
. I pity you for wasting time reading my drool when there's brilliant art out there for the taking -- and at under ten bucks.
Lee has made in effect a sequel to Do the Right Thing
, spiked (crappy pun intended) with a bit of Clockers
. Using New York as a backdrop once again, and setting the story over the course of one day from morning to morning once again, Lee has resurrected not only the structure of his 1989 masterpiece, but even one of the scenes -- a direct quote of the Brooklyn locals' to-the-camera racist rants against blacks, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, Jews, Irish, and anyone else who gets in the way. This time, he has cinematically one-upped himself by showing his protagonist scream the rant in a mirror reflection -- but while the reflection spits and yells and gesticulates, the foreground protagonist's body doesn't move a muscle. Great optical effect, brilliant artistic device.
Now, onto the movie. The links to Do the Right Thing
go deeper than style; at the center of Lee's summer race riot history lesson was a moral question that had no easy answer. Continuing into Malcolm X
, Lee has been asking himself and his audience how we can fix the damage that has been done to Americans, the damage from anger and hatred cause by fear. How can we solve the problems so that the cycle of violence is broken? In what moral world can we exist when doing the right thing is far more difficult than doing what is selfish? 25th Hour poses a similar question, but instead of using racism as the eye of the moral hurricane, it uses nothing less than the American dream.
Edward Norton plays Monty Brogan, the guy who's being sent off to prison for 7 years tomorrow morning. The movie follows his final 24 hours of freedom. Simple as that. But Lee's too smart to go where many exploitative filmmakers have gone before -- he makes Monty's problems bigger than 24 hours and he makes his prison bigger than a penitentiary upstate. After an agressively visceral and show-stopping pre-credit sequence, Lee shows Monty on the morning in question looking at the Brooklyn Bridge from a park bench and frames him between the bars of the railing. Monty's in prison already, and it's an ethical prison of his own doing: he hasn't just been a drug dealer, but he hasn't trusted his girlfriend since he got busted (he thinks she might be guilty of turning him in).
The prison bar motif continues throughout Lee's masterful compositions, which also use the events of September 11th, 2001, as a political backdrop. There are characters like Barry Pepper's phenomenal Wall Street asshole Frank, who lives high above ground zero, unaffected by its physical demolition or its financial one. He's a two-faced, lying, homophobic scumbag, but Lee doesn't let him off easy with caricature. Monty is such a good friend he gives Frank the one out he's been wanting his whole life -- to take out his frustrations on a worthy target and come to understand the violence at his emotional core. This scene, occurring late in the film, is a dramatic climax and Lee shoots it with surprising grace and sympathy.
Then there's Phil Hoffman's troubled high school teacher Jake, who lusts after his jailbait student (played by a marvelous Anna Paquin in a twist on her Hurlyburly
work) and confronts his own safe life at the end of Monty's dangerous one. Hoffman plays him completely straight, showing yet another link in his range between characters in Happiness
I could go on and on about the characters in writer David Benioff's rich and complex story (even Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tony Siragusa gives a hilarious performance as a Ukranian gangster), but I've been writing too much so I'll wrap things up. 25th Hour
is a movie that takes a real world in the now (so refreshing to have a movie set in New York where the actors actually use New York accents) and elevates it to allegorical beauty, asking us how we would behave if this was our last night of freedom, if the world was going to drop a bomb on us tomorrow morning -- because if we never know when we're going down, why not live every day as if our moral universe depended on it?