[MOVIE REVIEW]Grieving a broken city and a life laid to wasteAlthough Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” is about a Manhattan drug dealer’s last night of freedom, it’s the damage done on Sept. 11, 2001 that in a way is its real subject. “9/11” doesn’t enter much into the actual story, but its scars are everywhere, and grief and anger brim up from just about every frame.
One of the movie’s first images is of the beams of light, projected into the sky from Ground Zero, that served for a while as a memorial. One character, Frank (Barry Pepper), a hyperaggressive stockbroker, keeps an apartment that overlooks Ground Zero. Lee’s camera keeps contemplating small reminders of the killings: a photo of fallen firemen; a piece of defiant graffiti along the lines of “You can’t stop New York City.” Mourning is happening, on more levels than one.
A convicted drug dealer, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), is due to report to prison in the morning to begin a seven-year sentence. He’s spending his last night out with his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), and with his two best friends, polar opposites Frank (Pepper) and Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a gawky, inhibited English teacher. As the clock runs down, Monty keeps finding reasons not to be alone with Naturelle ― possibly because he suspects her of being the anonymous snitch who betrayed him to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Seemingly everyone around Monty has someone to blame for what’s about to happen to him. There’s Monty himself, yes, a smart and articulate guy who could have done anything but opted to peddle powder because the money was so seductive. But Naturelle, as Frank points out, was willing to enjoy the lifestyle heroin paid for. Monty’s dad (Brian Cox), as Monty points out, was willing to take money from Monty to keep his bar going, even though he knew where it came from. And neither Frank nor Jacob, it seems, was ever enough of a friend to confront him brutally about what he was doing.
Instead, all the confrontations happen on this final night, when it’s too late to change anything, and of all the blame and anger going around, none is more intense than Monty’s, which is finally directed at himself. There’s a transcendent and very Spike Lee scene in which Monty, staring into a men’sroom mirror, spins a detailed and imaginative litany of hate toward every New York ethnic bloc he can think of, and by the end of it there’s nobody left standing to despise except Monty.
Like Woody Allen, Spike Lee is a New York filmmaker before he’s anything else, and he couldn’t have made this movie ― his first since 9/11 ― pretending that the city hadn’t changed. The rage, bewilderment and sorrow with which “25th Hour” ends seem as much a response to what’s happened to New York City as to what’s happened to Monty.
by David Moll