Culture Your Ass: “25th Hour”

Written by Barfoot September 29, 2011

Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” was about to begin production in New York City when the planes hit the twin towers. Suddenly, the cast and crew had the unexpected and unsought distinction of being the first Hollywood film to shoot in the city after the tragedy of 9/11. Lee felt that trying to tiptoe around its effect on the psyche of New York would be immensely disrespectful and come across as false to any American audience. Never one to avoid controversy, the director turned this roadblock into an opportunity and rolled the aftermath of 9/11 into the thematic foreground of his film.

Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is facing his last day of freedom before he serves a seven-year prison sentence. He was a drug dealer for the Russian mob, living the high-life in a luxurious apartment with a gorgeous girlfriend (Rosario Dawson). That life is now over. The only people he wants to see before he goes away are his father (Brian Cox) and his childhood friends, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Francis (Barry Pepper). Monty has a single day to salvage the few relationships that mean something to him, make peace with his grim fate, and maybe even discover who sold him out.

The events of 9/11 dovetail with the movie surprisingly well; their inclusion never feels intrusive or forced. The opening credits prominently feature the two sets of spotlights that acted as a monument to the fallen towers. Francis’ apartment overlooks the haunting ruins of the World Trade Center complex, and a key conversation takes place as the three friends look down into the wreckage. Throughout the film, Monty wanders about in a daze, dwelling on his lost innocence and his bleak future. This tone of meandering melancholy coupled with a pervasive sense of existential dread echoes the vibe felt throughout the Western world in the days and months after the tragedy.

25th Hour would still have been a remarkable film without 9/11. David Beinoff’s script, based on his own novel, is powerful and nuanced, while Spike Lee’s lively direction knocks it out of the park. Everyone in the ensemble delivers rich performances worthy of the material – especially Edward Norton, who hasn’t done anything this good since. However, the movie’s subtle meditation on the paradigm-shift experience by our culture is what elevates it to the level of an unheralded classic.

 

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