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The Movie: 25th Hour (2002)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Monty Brogan celebrates his one last night of freedom before heading to jail and learns who his real friends are.
Why It’s on the List:
For me, 2002 was an important year as a fan of movies. It was the first year I actively sought out all of the Oscar contenders and saw a bunch of movies at the end of the year crush. I remember watching this movie and thinking it was one of the best films of that year. My exposure to Spike Lee, and quite frankly, many other filmmakers of color, was limited. Lee created something that was an ode to the New York and America of post-9/11, something that wasn’t directly political but still said so much about the country we live in.
The metaphor starts right at the beginning when Monty saves a dog. We know he’s a protagonist because he saves this dog from certain death and takes care of it up until the moment he has to give it up to Jake when he goes to prison. We can see the dog as a representation of a beat-up America who may or may not deserve to be saved (If you’re reading this in 2020, then my position on this issue has gone back and forth a number of times). Monty is certainly not a perfect protagonist. There’s a predilection for high school girls as he meets his current girlfriend, Naturelle, while she’s very clearly in a uniform of some sort. He’s also a drug dealer, and we should all understand the damage these drugs can do. He delivers an incredibly racist and homophobic monologue about New York but eventually turns it back on himself. This feels like one of the most authentically New York moments of the entire film. Ed Norton excels in this role, and he was on quite a run in the late 90s and early 00s.
Another actor who was on quite a run? Barry Pepper. Probably someone you’ve forgotten about at this point unless you watched Crawl (a pretty underrated film in itself). Here, he plays a Wall Street douchebag named Frank, who is best friends with Monty. He gets a lot of shine and gets to show his dramatic in multiple difficult conversations with Montym and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Jake. Frank and Jake have a particularly hard conversation while staring at the Ground Zero rubble. This is a movie about difficult relationships and the meaning of trust.
This movie sings when it’s about the bros trying to come to terms with their own problems and relationships. Monty is off to prison for seven years, and that is both a short amount of time and feels like forever. Spike Lee had great success with another movie that took place over one day, and he does the same here.
*Monty and Jake both skating the border as far as their love interests is creepy as hell. There’s no point to Anna Paquin’s character beyond serving as a temptress. She literally disappears from the film as soon as she kisses Jake. I like Rosario Dawson and Anna Paquin a great deal, but man do they feel wasted and objectified throughout. Dawson’s Naturelle is even potentially the person who sold out her boyfriend Monty because… women, am I right? Women are a problem in many a Lee project, and given what we know about David Benioff’s patterns, it’s double trouble.
*I know prison rape jokes have generally been accepted for a long time, but goodness, there’s a lot of them here.
MVP: Terence Blanchard has collaborated with Spike Lee on a number of projects, but this might be his finest work. From the moment we hear his score play over the opening credits to Brian Cox’s powerful ending monologue, his musical compositions add so much to the film. It feels so appropriate to the tone and emotions of the film. Spike Lee’s movies generally have the feeling of a singular author, but this feels like other voices have been more incorporated. The score is a huge part of why this movie is so successful
Best Performance: Edward Norton is one of those actors who I look at and just wonder how he hasn’t maintained an ability to be one of the most important actors in Hollywood. It’s unfortunate he’s a pain in the ass to work with and apparently an altogether unpleasant person to be around because he’s fantastic in almost every role he’s in, even in movies that are awful (Death to Smoochy). This is more of an ensemble than I remembered, and almost all of the other actors (the male ones at least) get moments to shine.
Best Quote: A tie between Edward Norton and Brian Box’s extended monologues, too much to copy and paste here. Norton’s words are so hateful, but he eventually turns them in himself and admits to his own faults. Cox is asked to weave a fantasy, at a time when he’s become well known for being the acidic Logan Roy, we get to see him be much more sensitive as a loving father here.
Is there a sequel? This movie was forgotten in 2002 and is generally regarded as being one of Lee’s more underrated classics. It would be interesting to see a follow-up as either a novel or film, but that likely won’t happen.