25th Hour (2002)

January 22nd, 2003  |  Published in Uncategorized

One of the things I like best about Spike Lee is his exploration of the nuances of simple human different-ness and its effect on our interactions. His characters are often, perhaps, more irritated than they are hateful, and when they’re hateful that depiction is more cautionary than inciteful. There’s an outpouring of that irritation in 25th Hour that will make some people squirm. The scene in which it occurs is by no means the center of the movie, but it’s a reminder of Lee’s ongoing consideration of how we all live together, even when he’s not making a “movie about race” like Jungle Fever or Do the Right Thing.

One of the widely noted things to like about this movie is its willingness to depict post-9/11 New York as post-9/11 New York. Things I remember about that city after traveling there last year spring into the frame that simply haven’t existed in other recent movies set there. I’m not talking about Ground Zero itself, which appears in a scene that lands with leaden heaviness (and seems a little too heavy), but all the other trappings: flags in odd places, shrines to fallen firefighters, and even a simple conversational cue or two.

Perhaps some filmmakers believe that once memory fades in a few years, overt acknowledgment of the way NYC was rocked out of its orbit and deeply marked will simply date their work. While this may be true (though there’s a patina of permanence to so many of the post 9/11 trappings that speaks to the unlikeliness of their departure anytime soon), it’s also true that Lee’s setting is key to the issues with which his characters grapple, and we will not become so forgetful in ten or twenty or fifty years to miss the obvious meaning of these images, even if we momentarily find ourselves reaching to understand the nuances.

Outside of the authentic sense lent to its setting, 25th Hour is well acted, well filmed, and well written. Edward Norton is great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman convincingly plays a character in a mode we’ve seen from him before but with more pathos than his usual immobilized over-thinkers, Barry Pepper is a perfect combination of self-absorbed money obsessive and tough-guy pal with a code.

During only one scene was I pulled out of the film at all. The rest was impossible to not watch, even though the story is less plot-driven than the trailers and promotional material make it seem. It’s not a revenge flick or a mystery… it’s a movie about loss, absence, and regret. The final scenes are heart-rending either way you care to take them: as a poignant, sweet vision of a salvaged future or a tragic, tantalizing, unintentional torment thoughtlessly offered in a moment of grief.

Comments are closed.

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.