26 May 2003 | mattymatt4ever
One of Spike's best
This is definitely Spike Lee at the top of his game! `25th Hour' is a purely character-driven drama filled with engaging, complex characters and sharp dialogue. I like how Spike allowed the scenes to play out, without being too concerned about dampening the pacing. I'm sure some will complain (and this probably explains why it wasn't a big success) that the film is boring and slow-moving. If they do, that's probably because audiences are so used to watching movies with a million cuts in one scene, and more time emphasized on action and sex scenes than character development. The characters were so well-developed that I felt a deep connection with each of them. It's rare nowadays that I really get sucked into a film, and this was one of those rare cases. It might also have to do with the fact that I'm familiar with many of these types of characters in real life. You have the Barry Pepper character, who's this smooth-talking playboy who ends sleeping with a ton of women, despite the fact that he's harsh and not very likable. And there's the Philip Seymour Hoffman character, who's a lonely, average-looking guy, who's alienated from society because he doesn't look like an Adonis. It's a harsh reality that handsome guys with nice bodies get away with being complete jerks and still maintain an active dating life, while average-looking guys can have great personalities and women will be repulsed by them, but it is indeed a reality. Sure, it isn't right for Hoffman to be lusting after one of his underage students, but I'm sure if he were ten times better looking, people wouldn't be as disgusted-because God knows that teachers sleeping with their students is sweeping the globe like an epidemic.
The approach to these character interaction scenes is almost documentary-like, which adds to the film's engaging qualities. I love the scene between Pepper and Hoffman, where they chat about dating and Pepper describes his buddy as being part of the 62nd percentile, in the dating world. Sometimes it doesn't work when you deviate from the main characters to focus on the supporting characters, but in this film it did, being that they're very essential in Monty's life and it's helpful to allow the audience to know them inside and out.
The acting is terrific. Edward Norton is always brilliant. But the supporting cast is just as strong. Barry Pepper is a wonderful actor as well, and it's interesting to find out that he's from Vancouver, yet he convincingly inhabits the character of a true New Yorker. Brian Cox is only in the film for about 20 or 30 minutes, but his appearances are very memorable, and he is absolutely magnificent. After seeing him in this movie, I must add him to my list of favorite underrated actors. It's ironic that he shows up in practically every other film, yet he never gets the recognition he deserves. Hopefully, one day he will. Even Tony Siragusa impressed me. I'm not hugely familiar with him, but I saw him make a guest appearance once on `The Tonight Show,' and he seems like a cool guy with a good sense of humor, but I wasn't sure how he'd pan out in a serious dramatic role. Well, he is great, and pulls off the Ukrainian accent with hardly a hitch. I also liked how his character would mess up on his English every once in a while, instead of these foreign characters in movies who speak perfect English, only with an accent. I'm always proud to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, who never fails to impress. One reason I'm so drawn to him is because-like me-he's an average-looking guy, yet he receives decent roles and doesn't get typed as the `fat slob' like most actors in his weight range. So I think of him as an inspiration to all overweight aspiring actors. I once read a review for `Magnolia' in which someone bashed him for being so ugly. Of course, this person didn't mention anything about his acting, but that just proves how superficial of a society we live in today. Many audiences are so used to seeing actors and actresses with near-perfect faces and near-perfect bodies that they can't stand to see actors who look like `normal people.' How often do you walk outside and see people who look like Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow? Even these so-called reality shows try to include the most beautiful people possible. So people get hypnotized into thinking that's reality. I'm a heterosexual man, so naturally I'm open about enjoying the sights of beautiful actresses, but that's not going to impact how I feel about their acting abilities. And the sight of beautiful women alone surely doesn't make a film good (i.e.: `Charlie Angels'). Speaking of beautiful women, wrapping up this talented cast are Anna Paiquin and Rosario Dawson. Paiquin is cute and effective in her role, though technically it's similar to the ones she played in `HurlyBurly' and `It's the Rage.' I just hope she doesn't get typecast as the teenage slut who loves sleeping with older men. But she's a fine actress, and despite these similarities, she takes different approaches to each of her characters. Rosario Dawson just gets hotter and hotter by the movie. When I saw that trailer shot where she's dancing in the club in that silver dress, I couldn't help but think to myself, `I'd give my left leg to marry that girl.' Well, I'm glad to see that she receives good roles that compliment her acting abilities. She really has a commanding screen presence, outside of her outstanding beauty.
I only have two minor criticisms about the film. One is the unnecessary `F.U. sequence' where Norton goes on a blue streak about his hatred for the people of NYC and the world in general. I'm sure many will find deep meaning in that sequence, but I felt it was out of place and simply an opportunity to remind people that this is a Spike Lee joint-since it's identical to the race-bashing montage in `Do the Right Thing.' Spike mentioned in the commentary that the scene was in the screenplay, and adapted from the original novel, but I'm sure he thought of it as a perfect opportunity to insert one of his directorial trademarks. My other criticism is the use of flashbacks. Nowadays, some directors feel that dissolving into flashbacks and showing subtitles that read things like `Three years earlier' is passe, but the audience needs some sort of clue that we're going back in time. In the scene where Dawson and her friend are in the playground, and Norton first meets her, is obviously a flashback since Dawson is wearing a Catholic private school uniform. But there are other scenes that I didn't realize were flashbacks until I watched the movie with Spike's commentary. But even without knowing those scenes were flashbacks, I didn't feel thrown off, so that's always a good sign.
Besides the `F.U. sequence,' there were other Spike trademarks, which I felt worked out well, like his famous dolly shot. The movie is long, but not overlong. As I said, this is Spike at the top of his game. I'm personally a fan of most of his work, even the awfully bashed `Summer of Sam.' Other fans should also be impressed. Hell, even if you're not a Spike Lee fan, you should appreciate this film! It's a smartly written, well-acted, character-driven drama that doesn't come along too often.
My score: 9 (out of 10)