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MPAA Rating: R (For Strong Language and Some Violence)
Running Time: 135 minutes
Starring: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox
Screenplay by: David
Directed by: Spike Lee
Retail Price: $29.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee, Audio Commentary with Writer David Benioff, Deleted Scenes, The Evolution Of An American Filmmaker, Ground Zero. DVD-ROM: Weblink, Register Your DVD
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (20 Scenes), THX-Certified
Released: May 20th, 2003
Monty Brogen (Edward Norton) is about to go to prison for seven years. A convicted drug dealer, Monty is trying to make the best of the time he has left with his friends and those he cares about. That includes remincising with his father (Brian Cox) and partying with his two best friends - wall street hotshot Francis (Barry Pepper) and English teacher Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It also means coming to terms with his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) and probably most importantly, how certain things came to be and what transformation his life will take.
It seems that "25th Hour" got lost along last year's big award contenders, and that's a shame given how much it did right in certain departments. While the movie is not perfect, it certainly is a gripping and very entertaining drama which I felt never wanes the interest of the viewer. Right from the start, director Spike Lee creates a centered atmosphere-of-sorts within the macrocosm of New York City. All of it certainly is interesting, and I always wanted to know what happened next and see where things were going. But for all the interest, the movie slowly unravels itself and becomes more and more flawed, as the focus and ideals of the movie keep shifting. The film thinks its consistent with its plots, characters and themes but it is truly not.
My main gripe with "25th Hour" is that it set up a lot with its wonderful supporting characters, only to go nowhere with them and leave their issues all open-ended. With that said, it almost felt like most of the subplots were pointless. Take the Mary and Jacob relationship for instance. For much of the movie, Jacob obsesses over his sassy student and feels conflicted about his feelings for her. (Possible spoilers ahead) She tempts him when they meet up at the club, and soon enough Jacob finally kisses her, only to realize he's done something that could come with dire consequences. That's a good conflict for the story, right? Of course it is. The only problem is that once he kisses her and Jacob acts terrified right after, the movie never mentions the story arc again. We never see Mary again, and we never find out what happens between them, let alone to Jacob. It's simply pointless, and it doesn't even extend the character of Jacob or develop him more at all. To be honest, I didn't see a point to having Jacob in the story at all. His only plotline goes nowhere, and he really doesn't do much for Monty or the other supporting characters.
The screenplay was written by David Benioff, who also wrote the original novel that the movie is based on. I always appreciate it when novelists are able to adapt their own work into a screenplay, since they probably care about their work enough (and pending the ability to adapt their work into scripts). While I haven't read the book (I'm currently interested in reading it now), it's pretty obvious Benioff would know his characters the best and what he was trying to say overall. The dialogue in the movie is certainly snappy, and there are some wonderful dialogue stretches (Monty's rant in the bathroom and Monty's father's closing speech). And as I keep saying, all the characters are interesting - but I found he development isn't that great on some of them. And given it's hard to adapt a book into a movie, I don't know who is to blame. Is it how Benioff structured his screenplay, or is it how Spike Lee envisioned the movie?
The supporting characters in the movie are questionable (yes, other than Jacob). While it's true all the actors do a great job playing them and make them a bit more full than the story would suggest, it just always isn't enough. It felt like there was nothing going for Francis as far as plot, and how Monty's prison sentence would affect him other than that they're life-long friends. The character's wall street player is certainly obnoxious and hits on all the ladies, but his attitude changes a bit as he becomes denfensive in different ways as he shows loyalty toward Monty. If the guy had his own story arc or was more prominent within aspects of Monty's story, it would have been better on. The character feels slightly tacked on.
I enjoyed the character of Naturelle, and the whole true love aspect between her and Monty. The drama is certainly added on to her as she is accused of ratting Monty out, but I think a little more backstory on her would have been better. Mary is another character is highly intriguing to watch, but she is ultimately pointless in the story thanks to the fact that Jacob's own plot thread goes nowhere. There's Monty's father who I really enjoyed, and some of his history is covered, but I would have loved to see more of him. Oh, and how Monty tries to come to terms with him should have been deal with in more detail. Finally, there's Monty's Russian dealing partner-of-sorts, Kostya. He's integral to the story, but his deal is pretty hard to swallow given how he's barely in the movie at all and we don't know anything about him. All these characters have potential which they sadly never get to meet.
"25th Hour" seems to have the main theme of good people doing the wrong things, and that you have to pay the price for your actions. It also is about making the most of the time we have left before certain things occur. It also touches on themes of loyalty, friendship and the choices we make in our lives, let alone finding ourselves and finding redemption. Notice how I said "touches." I felt the movie didn't really emphasize most of what it was trying to say it all, but was more straight through in its approach to telling a dramatic story. However, I did appreciate some of the film's symbolisms and parallels, such as the opening of the movie where Monty takes in the dog he names Doyle and how he abandons Kostya later on in the movie. The connection between those two scenes is one of the strongest elements the movie has going for it.
Spike Lee does an interesting directing job here. There was a lot of stuff that I loved in the movie, and a lot I didn't. I'll talk about the good first: the movie is visually beautiful, with a lot of great shots by Lee (paritucarly the handheld ones) and how Lee sets up the characters. The ending is also a winner. While the ending has caused controversy and discussion (it's not too hard to figure out if you pay good attention to it), it plays out beautifully with the firm Brian Cox voiceover and haunting shots. Everything else though isn't too hot. Sure, Lee sets up the characters, but as I keep pointing out, he doesn't extend most of them out in the movie and most of that feels random. The movie feels a bit uneven, and the editing is confusing at times. The film wisely has a few flashback sequences to set a few important things up that are crucial to Monty, but it does a poor job of doing so. The transistions between the past and present are some of the worst I've seen on film. As I watching most of the flashbacks, at first I thought they were in the present only to slowly realize that they wouldn't make sense and they had to be in the past. I'm sure I wasn't the only one confused by the placing of the scenes set in the past, let alone how we arrive to seeing them.
It should be noted that "25th Hour" was a movie that also got quite a bit of attention as it was one of the first movies, if not the first movie, to directly acknowledge the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11th, 2001. Please don't get me wrong, 9/11 was a terrible incident (I am a New Yorker and live in New York) and it touched millions of lives. But to be honest, I didn't feel the 9/11 imagery and mentions fit so well with the movie - it almost felt like it was all there just for the sake of being there. If it was more directly involved with the plot more (other than Monty's father knowing some firemen) it would have been easier to swallow, but most of the imagery and comments didn't feel relevant at all. It's true that the movie takes place in New York City, but a lot of it seemed off hand. And I know this wasn't in the original book, since that was published in the year 2000.
If there is one thing that is flawless within this movie, it is definitely the acting (how come NONE of these actors were up for major awards? how come this wasn't nominated as Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards?). Spike Lee put together a cast mainly of some of the best contemporary actors. Once again, Edward Norton shows why he's one of the finest, if not THE finest actors of the current generation. His performance as Monty is not only haunting in some respects, but deeply measured. Norton captures all the intense emotions and clamped feelings as he comes to realize he'll be missing out on seven years of his life. There's a fine and bolding strength to him, complete with a charming side, but also a quiet desperation and melancholy reflection in his final free hours.
Barry Pepper is also shaping up to be a fabulous actor - I personally thought he stole the show. Pepper captures all the cockiness of his character topped with a smoldering attitude, a winning smirk and fierce loyalty. His delivery and intensity is fantastic. The ever-reliable Philip Seymour Hoffman is also good, but the character is certainly limited and I think it hampers his performance since there's not always much to do. Nonetheless, Hoffman works well with it. Rosario Dawson captures a fine sense of innocence, love and strength as Natuelle while Anna Paquin simply blazes the screen as Mary who is quite the slick Vixen. Also, Brian Cox is wonderful (as usual) as Monty's father. With his crisp voice and heartening stance, he helps bring the movie up - even if he's only in about three scenes. Other supporting performances too are nice for what they are, like Tony Siragusa (yep, the football player), Isiah Whitlock and Levani Outchaneichvili.
What I also loved about the movie was Terence Blanchard's score. Blanchard, the jazz great who has been Lee's composer on all his movies for the past 11 years or so, has created a score that not only is perfectly integrated into the film but perfectly reflects it. Blanchard captures so many moods and emotions with his score, but it always stays true to the movie
In the end, despite all its flaws, I liked "25th Hour." It didn't feel like a typical Spike Lee movie which is something that surprised me. The movie really has a lot going for it with the beautiful Terence Blanchard score and the fabulous acting. Still, I thought the film's plotlines needed to be cleaned up a little and made more even. I also thought the movie would affect me more with what it was trying to say, but it didn't hit me as hard as I thought it would (which was something else I found surprising). "25th Hour" is a good movie, but it really could have been something great.
The film is presented in a THX-Certified 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it certainly is an interesting transfer to say the least. The film has a very stylized, very filtered look (which is intentional) that appears a bit rough at times. While the DVD transfer captures Spike Lee's unique vision for the film, it's not without its flaws. At times the contrast seems to be up way too high, so much so that the actors in the film look unnatural. The transfer also has some shimmering and plenty of noise. The image is a bit grainy and there is some slight edge enhancement too, but the worst offender has to be the abundance of edge halos. I hate these with a passion, and they're all over the place in this transfer. It gets very annoying quite quickly.
However, there is a lot of good to be found here. The film's vast color scheme and variety of hues are well replicated, featuring stark and bold saturation that never over-does it, and gets the reflecting feelings just right as far as what the colors represent. Detail is superb and there are barely any dirt pieces or blemishes. Fleshtones look pretty superb, but I have to say the black levels are a bit iffy and not as strong as I hoped. In all, the transfer does capture what Lee was probably going for the film, but it makes me wonder about the THX-certification process.
The English 5.1 Dolby Digital track is very effective and captures just the right atmosphere that the film represents. Most notable on this track is how triumphant the brilliant score from Terence Blanchard sounds. The score fills the speakers wonderfully and feels so natural, complete with deep bass. The other music in the film - namely the songs - also sound very sharp. The dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, and the only time it drowns out is during the club scene (the music overpowers the voices) which I'm sure is pretty intentional. The film also has its fair share of surrounds too, most of which are pretty intense but all of them sound really good. There are some more subtle surrounds such as birds chirping in the park, the footsteps of people walking around or people knocking on the door of Monty's apartment and there's more intense surrounds that are quite flavorful, such as the tuffle between Monty and Francis and the beat down on someone Monty knows. Subwoofer use is great all around, while the overall dynamics are quite high. In all, it's a rousing mix that definitely pleases. Also included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital track, plus English subtitles and English closed captions. I just wish there was a DTS track too...
What you get here is a pretty good package that nicely compliments the film. You get not one, but two distinct audio commentaries. The first, the Audio Commentary with Director Spike Lee, is decent. However, it feels a bit jumpy. It seems Lee is too distracted watching his own movie to focus, so at times he'll say something and then pause and then a few seconds later he'll continue his comments. It's a little bit annoying. Lee also rambles off sometimes, but he offers some interesting comments. He talks about casting the movie, some challenges the production and Lee himself personally faced. Lee also points out some obvious comments, and even jumps ahead of himself and describes things that haven't appeared yet. I found the commentary to be a bit awkward and lacking focus, but there is some decent stuff here so fans of the movie who want to know specific things will probably want to listen.
The second Audio Commentary with Writer David Benioff is really outstanding, and I got a lot more out of it than Lee's commentary. Benioff, of course, wrote the screenplay based on his own book. I found his perspective to be great, as he touches on quite a lot of things about the movie and his experiences with the production. Benioff covers quite a bit here, be it the more broad aspects of the story or the slightest detail. He vividly talks about his inspirations, the differences when comparing the movie to the book (apparently quite a few details didn't make it into the movie, all of which Benioff explains) and the book being optioned by Tobey Maguire. He talks about his choice in choosing a specific narrative, plus Benioff says the removal of the "The" from the original book's title doesn't bother him. I really enjoyed this commentary - in fact, at times Benioff sounds like he actually directed the movie.
The Evolution Of An American Filmmaker is a twenty-two minute, twenty second look at Spike Lee's career and at "25th Hour." It's pretty promotional in nature yet nicely done, and features interviews with Spike Lee, Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, Rosario Dawson and even those not related to "25th Hour" - Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Sidney Lumet, John Tuturro, Rosie Perez, Wesley Snipes and Ossie Davis. The featurette is split between talking about Lee and then "25th Hour." It has picture stills plus behind-the-scenes clips and actual film clips from the making of "25th Hour" and some of his other movies. It also has a nice focus overall on both sections, as people comment about what makes Spike Lee's movies so interesting and why they resonate and as far as "25th Hour" goes, what the story is about, the characters, the 9/11 references and why it's meaningful. It also features the movies themselves and how successful they were in areas, and what it showed about Lee. I found it to be a good watch, and if you like Lee's films, then you'll dig it too.
Ground Zero is a five-and-a-half-minute deleted scene reel of footage they shot of the 9/11 Ground Zero site, set to the lovely score of Terrance Blanchard. There are seven Deleted Scenes, all of which don't add to the movie at all. No explanations on why they were cut, but it's pretty obvious. The scenes are pretty short and are in rough non-anamorphic widescreen. For you DVD-ROM users, you can register your DVD and check out some weblinks.
"25th Hour" was one of 2002's more intriguing movies, one that was certainly overlooked in the acting department during awards season. It also happens to be, in my opinion, one of Spike Lee's better films. It makes a solid rental for those looking for some pretty intriguing drama, while fans of the movie should have no qualms about picking it up due its good transfer, strong 5.1 mix and enlightening supplements. Well done!