25th Hour (2002) Directed by Spike Lee
I cannot believe the year 2001 was 11 years ago. We were told that a perspective change ("the world will never be the same") will take place for good after 9/11 and indeed, that mantra has been made real by repeatedly referring back to the date.
Anything could be justified and was – a whole new culture of violence and hatred was introduced as mere necessity – a paradigm shift, if you will.
Anyway, a decade has passed and many products of the early 2000s mood and culture now seem rash, abrupt, even over-emotional and extreme. 25th Hour is a great example of what I'm trying to say. The movie relies on assumptions of correct passionate emotion based on what happened in New York on that horrible day. It's Spike Lee's love letter to New York wrapped up in a drugs and mafia related narrative and a psychological thriller. Something seems a little clued on, a little worn out by now. Maybe from today's perspective it's NYC as a martyr...
When I watched 25th Hour for the first time at its premier in Helsinki in 2002 I remember thinking it was a heavy and moody picture. I did not laugh. The scenes at the gaping hole of the World Trade Center I watched with horror and felt uncomfortable. Now the whole film revealed its humour and lightness (or was it me not feeling pressured about certain context?) There was a facial expression people developed to deal with anything 9/11 related, but clearly even I have forgotten it by now. Isn't this post-modern life/history-in-the-making fast? It's ridiculous.
Because in reality buildings tend to outlast us people and roads most certainly do, let alone trees or lakes. We are the ants. And this is my ramble. I recommend 25th Hour.
Watching most of 25th Hour was a revelation. Sharp acting, imaginatively shot and an insightful script, or so it seemed. Then I thought about it. It was my second time with the picture and the same faults that blighted the first viewing (when the movie came out) apply now. Overlong and a terrible ending. Then I analyze some more and the feelings I then found left me to conclude that I could boil the movie down into a couple of great scenes and then the rest merely OK? Spike Lee, when dealing with drama (and a big distinction must be made between these and his excellent documentaries) seems to have lost the plot. He is always aiming too high and missing on the personal interaction and details that so distinguished his earlier films. Now we get moralizing on the big themes.
25th Hour does try to connect those personal stories with three old friends meeting to see one of them off on his last night of freedom before a long prison stretch. This works on some level, but Edward Norton's central character Monty (named after Clift) displays too much method in his delivery- he is too studied here to be convincing as the hardbal drug dealer facing incarceration. Despite this, Norton is good but outplayed by the seedy wall street broker Frank (an excellent Barry Pepper) and the usual brilliance of Philip Seymour Hoffman (playing to type as lecturer Jacob). These friends have grown apart since they were kids and dont really relate, this central theme just about holds. Rosario Dawson as Norton's love interest is just that, given a thankless role. Lee has handled drug addiction/dealing and inter-racial relationships far more acutely with Jungle Fever and Clockers. We feel we have been thorough this scenario before and 25th Hour offers very little increased insight into typical Lee themes.
Lee does hinge 25th Hour on the backdrop of 9/11, we even get to see ground zero still being cleared of the wreckage. Lee over pronounces this element, displaying an unnecessary national pride that in 2012 seems misplaced. What raises 25th Hour above average is Monty's bathroom mirror rant against everyone and everything, Lee showing us he can stil do cutting edge social commentary when needed. 25th Hour would have been a very good movie without the ending. Brian Cox, playing Monty's father gives us an alternative future for Monty that really looks and feels like a Budweiser commercial. Lee could not reign himself in. But I still hold out for Spike. I don't know if we'll ever get the quality of She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues or Malcolm X again. But I'm excited about his Michael Jackson documentary Bad 25, and maybe that field excites Spike more nowadays.