If you were going to spend seven years in prison, how would you spend your last twenty four hours of freedom? How do you say goodbye to your loved ones?
Monty Brogan (a brilliant Edward Norton) has just been caught with a large portion of narcotics in his possession by the DEA. He has been informed that he has twenty fours before he will be imprisoned for seven years in the New York State penitentiary. It is in these twenty four hours that director Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Summer of Sam) wishes to examine the psyche of Monty Brogan and how he intends on utilizing his last day in the outside world.
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Monty is faced with the dilemmas of explaining to his father his situation, farewelling his friends and girlfriend, ultimately tying up all the loose ends. The story also focuses on Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper) and Jacob Elinsky (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Monty’s two best friends, and the way in which they behave in the lead up to spending one final night with their friend before he exits their lives for seven years.
Spike Lee is well known for making films that deal with issues of race, however in 25th Hour he focuses predominantly on the issue of the human conscience and the way in which people deal with certain predicaments that they are faced with. Throughout the film the viewer is confronted with images of post September 11 New York, and the aftermath of the ruins. There is one scene when Frank is questioned by Jacob as to why he hasn’t chosen to move from his apartment (which overlooks the wreckage) since the Twin Tower collapse. Frank replies, that Osama Bin Laden can fly another plane into the building adjacent to his own and still he will not be forced to move from his home. This is the human spirit and attitude that Lee wishes to put under the microscope.
One of the films most powerful moments is a Lee trademark montage sequence, where Monty stares into a bathroom mirror, and repeatedly exclaims "Fuck you", directing this at all the different religious and ethnic groups (eg. Catholics, Hispanics, Blacks etc.). This is the only time that issues of race and prejudice are raised, however this is not intended to portray Monty as a racist figure, rather it shows a man who is at boiling point and looking to lash out, to blame someone, so that he can justify his sentence. Finally at the end of the montage, Monty realises that he is the only one to blame, exclaiming, "No, fuck you Monty. You did this to yourself you stupid fuck."
Significant also, is Monty’s dog, who rarely leaves his side. An early scene in the film is particularly powerful when we see Monty walking his dog in the early hours of the morning along a quite, desolate boardwalk next to the Hudson River. We understand from this scene that the pet dog is really the only thing in Monty’s life that he can trust, not even his friends or girlfriend of whom he suspects might be responsible for informing the police of his stash of narcotics.
The acting is superb, and rightly so as this is a character driven film with a lack of plot. Edward Norton brilliantly portrays a man who must face up to the crime that he has committed, and ultimately attempt to turn his life around and undo all his wrongs in one day. Confirming the diversity in his acting range, we see Norton in flashbacks of his once happier life.
Barry Pepper plays Frank as an angry, bitter friend of Monty’s initially reminding him of deserving his penalty, and then
The films cinematography focuses on city’s beauty with panoramic shots of Brooklyn Bridge, Hudson River, Central Park etc. This is contrasted with shots of the World Trade Center memorial and it ruins. This contrast conveys Monty’s emotions as he leaves this beautiful city, to go spend seven years in a bland, simple prison.
There is minimal cutting in the film, with long scenes, in particular the use of the tracking shot is employed. Close ups of characters are replaced with long and profile shots, and this is used to show the isolation and loneliness felt primarily by Monty, but also by all the people around him. His actions have affected everyone close to him.
It is only in the last few scenes where quick cutting, and frequent changes in setting is used. This is to convey to the viewer that Monty’s last moments of freedom are escaping him rapidly, and that he truly does not have enough time to spend with his loved ones.
Some of the films editing is slightly disjointing as quite often we move from present to past shots of Monty’s life, rather than changing the editing technique (eg. the use a dissolve), the cutting technique stays constant. Viewers may find it disorientating, and may struggle to distinguish between past and present scenes, particularly early in the film.
The soundtrack consists of slow, sad and quietly powerful orchestral music that is ultimately a reflection of Monty’s emotions. At the end, the music becomes more up tempo as Monty has accepted his punishment.
25th Hour is a superb film that for some viewers may seem slow and tedious, as there is no action or plot twists, however this is the point that Spike Lee wishes to convey. It is a film about real life people in real life situations. It is a glimpse at a man’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that he has ruined his life, and a journey as he attempts to bring closure to his relationship with friends.
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