Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Amazing Cast With Character Sells Us Long Before The 25th Hour

The Good: Excellent acting, Intriguing characters, Well-written, Well-directed, Decent plot, Use of soundtrack
The Bad: Spike Lee rants
The Basics: When Monty Brogan gets nailed for drug possession and trafficking, he is sentenced to 7 years in prison. The 25th Hour is his last night before he goes away. What a night.

In the series premiere of Sports Night (reviewed here!), Jeremy Goodwin (an expert on sports trivia and a cute, geeky character), is forced to talk about basketball with repeated demands by the woman interviewing him for the job on Sports Night about what the New York Nicks can do to improve their game. His final answer in his desperate rant is "Tell Spike Lee to sit down and shut the hell up!" His answers get him the job. After seeing The 25th Hour, it's easy to see why. The only real strike against this movie are the moments that Edward Norton's Monty turns toward the camera and dives into a rant against everyone and everything in New York City. This loud, hate-filled outburst seems so out of place and uncharacteristic that one wonders why Spike Lee left (or put) it in. It robs the movie of perfection.

That said, The 25th Hour is the story of Monty Brogan's last twenty-four hours before he goes off to jail. Monty spends the day connecting with his friends, Jacob and Frank, pushing his loving girlfriend away, and saying good-by to his father and the criminals for whom he took the fall. These are the agonizing last hours of a convicted drug peddler trying to put his life in order and understand how he got to the point he is now at.

The 25th Hour had one of the most depressing previews I have ever seen when I saw it in the movie theater and my thought was "Why would anyone want to go see a movie that looks so unrelentingly depressing?" The preview people got it wrong. While The 25th Hour has an encompassing sense of impending doom, it does not portray Monty nearly as depressed, resigned and depressing to watch as the preview did.

In fact, Monty Brogan is a criminal we feel bad for. The film almost entirely neglects that this is a man who sold drugs, which ruin people's lives (that is characterized through a single character whose deterioration into a wasted junkie is shown), and instead illustrates the consequences to the good people who surround him as a result of his collapse. We see not only Monty's struggle, but the compelling feelings of helplessness of Jacob and self-loathing of Frank over how they let their friend fall so far.

Spike Lee does an amazing job of directing. The 25th Hour has a very distinctive look and feel of post-September 11th New York City. Lee does a great job visually keeping the movie flowing and his use of soundtrack, especially in the club near the film's end, is great.

The 25th Hour also does an excellent job of portraying dynamic characters. Mary is not simply a spoiled rich girl, Naturelle is not simply a token Latino or token girlfriend, and it is impossible to deny that Monty is more than just a criminal. Speeding to make a buy, Monty stops to rescue a seriously hurt dog. It's details like that that push The 25th Hour beyond the bland stereotypes and archetypes of the typical crime dramas.

What solidifies this movie is the amazing cast. Brian Cox plays Monty's father as resigned and considerate, a far cry from his X-Men 2 (reviewed here!) role. Anna Paquin's Mary is a nice step away from her other roles, as well. And while I'm a big fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman (his role in Magnolia is perfectly executed), Barry Pepper as Frank steals the spotlight in every scene the two of them are together in. Pepper is acerbic and plays Frank with so much oozing self-loathing that, despite the fact that half the lines that come out of his mouth characterize him as a jerk, make it impossible not to feel for this deeply wounded man.

But the top billing rightfully goes to Edward Norton. The movie is Monty's and Norton makes Monty someone to care about. Without any trace of the angry man from Fight Club, the clown from Losing The Faith or the arrogance of his character from The Score, Norton plays Monty as a cunning man who got caught. There is a simple magnificence to the resigned looks in his eyes, face and slumping of his shoulders as he descends into acceptance of all that has happened to him. Conversely, he plays the flashbacks where Monty is at the top of his game with more of a stride, more confidence, exactly what one would expect from the character at that time in his life.

At the end of the day, The 25th Hour is good drama and it's entertaining. The viewer quickly invests in the characters and becomes intrigued by the struggles of each of them. And perhaps the most refreshing aspect is the lack of resolution at the end. Sure, all of the important plot points (like who got Monty caught) are revealed, but the way the end opens up the possibilities keeps the movie fresh and very easy to watch repeated viewings of. The DVD has some nice deleted scenes and the commentary is not bad, either.

The 25th Hour illustrates the caliber of greatness of some of the actors, directors, and editors of our new century. Far superior to Lee's He Got Game, The 25th Hour solidifies the idea that Spike Lee is a master storyteller in the film medium. He certainly knows what to do with quality actors when he gets them.

For other works with Edward Norton, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Invention Of Lying
The Incredible Hulk
The Score
Keeping The Faith
Fight Club


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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