12 November 2004 | josevcutts
A powerful and haunting parable.
As 'A Spike Lee Joint,' 25th hour is a paradigm, filled with Lee's typical style and directorial vigor. A flowing, feature length music video, containing a story that is coherent, topical and, above all, strongly analytical in its approach to the characters, 25th Hour is the story of mid level drug dealer (Monty Brogan Ed Norton) whom, on his last day before being incarcerated for his elicit trade, must make peace with his family and friends, answer to his Red Mafia suppliers, say farewell to the city he so obviously loves and, ultimately, accept that he is now in receipt of justified dues.
With a post 9/11 setting in NYC, the script deviates from the book (which was written pre-9/11) only slightly in order to encompass the destruction, yet the atmosphere is set with the opening credits and a slice of dialogue during the first quarter (followed by some beautifully filmed cutaways to a sodium lit nighttime clean-up crew, working in Ground Zero) which leaves the audience with no alternative but to associate the main characters' desperate tableau with plight of the city in the aftermath of tragedy. This could perhaps beg the question: What was so bad about how Monty made his living to warrant the end of his life (in effect) in the 25th Hour?
This is a question answered before it's asked, with the first scene after the opening credits showing an exchange between Monty and a disheveled wreck of a man who is quite clearly one of his customers. It's further reinforced in a later flashback to Monty's earlier days as a dealer when the same man approaches Monty dressed in business attire. The destruction of others for personal gain is something that will not - and quite rightly so - go unchallenged.
A subplot concerns blame, where Monty vilifies and accuses everyone in the city, himself included. However, later in the film, the injustice of this is rectified with a simple shot of the various people, looking upon him with sympathy the personification of this being a small boy offering a sign of friendship. Monty's own redemption begins and is represented by him expressing his brotherhood to the child in return.
Relying somewhat on symbolism and hidden meanings, there are a number of subtexts, as well as ample opportunities to read into the narrative more than is intended, but the overall message is clear: culpability is in the hands of the bearer, and with his last 24 hours of freedom sifting away and the eponymous 25th Hour quickly approaching Monty must see that blame can only lie with himself.
25th Hour's greatest achievement is in relaying a subtle, but highly relevant parable in a manner of storytelling that is both enjoyable and compelling. Very few words are wasted and the dialogue remains taught and muscular throughout. The editing, acting, score, direction and cinematography are all of the very highest standard. It could've been very easy for a film of this nature to fail by being presented as an embarrassing lecture. Thankfully 25th Hour is definitely no lecture, but a powerful and haunting movie.