25th Hour (2002)


USA; Spike Lee


Mature audiences - Strong Language; Violence; Explicit Sexual References


Set in a traumatized, post-9/11 New York, 25th Hour follows 24 hours of the life of a drug dealer (Edward Norton) and his family circle: his childhood friends, an introvert, lonely high school professor, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a boisterous, devil-may-care womanizer broker, Frank (Barry Pepper), his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) and his middle-aged father (Brian Cox), a recovering alcoholic brimming with remorse and self-loathing. Monty is going to jail, and has only 24 hour to mend what’s left behind and leave. If only one could give him 60 more minutes…

Spike Lee’s raw and haunting evocation of a doomed life at crossroads is, at its simplest, an attack on the American Dream fairytale we are fed day after day. But 25th Hour is a movie for dreamers. For those who dare to dream, even if they are only too aware it’s senseless. With virtually every single shot heavy with the stillness of tragedy, reeking of frozen anguish and mute terrors, occasionally slashed with bursts of wry, quirky humor and dolorous spasms of despair, it is very much a requiem, a mournful elegy for an existence placed from the very beginning under the sign of sin and doom.


Lee weaves a rich, dense tapestry of characters, stories and themes, layering each level, each sub-plot with abundant human weight as well as with metaphysical subtext. Propelled by splendid performances from the leads, 25th Hour progresses at a unique, fractured, hallucinatory slow-burning pace. The director and his ensemble cast are in control of the film, but know exactly when to let themselves overwhelmed, submerged by its powerfulness, the result being a movie of an unbridled, naked emotionality and painful, visceral intensity.


Final words must go to the film’s unique visual mood. Lee’s camera lingers flirtatiously on New York, on its vibrant bars, glittering interiors, sophisticatedly impersonal architectural bijoux but also on the crammed mean streets, busting with noise, energy and vim. The somber, saturated and aggressive color palette confers the city a ominous luster, heightened by a haunting, ethereal score, one of the best in recent memory. If, by day, New York is a familiar, comfortable place, populated by smiling faces, by night its glittering, twinkling skyscrapers and strident nightclubs, pools of light in an ocean of darkness, are humming with an uneasy, sharp sense of menace.


A superb, heightened, hypnotic work of art, gorgeously photographed and boasting a haunting, psyche-shredding score, 25th Hour is by turns devastating, poignant, beautiful and acutely, painfully euphoric. A little like a farewell party…


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