It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Spike Lee's "25th Hour" tells the story of a businessman's last day of freedom before the start of his seven-year prison sentence. During this day he will need to say goodbye to his girlfriend, his father and his two best friends. And he will need to find someone to take care of his dog. The man's business was selling drugs, but his story could be a microcosm for the Enron thieves. What it has in common is a lack of remorse; the man is sorry he is going to prison, but not particularly sorry for his business practices, which he would still be engaged in if he hadn't been caught.
The man's name is Monty Brogan. He is thoughtful, well-spoken, a nice guy. The first time we see him, he's rescuing a dog that has been beaten half to death. He associates with bad guys--the Russian Mafia of New York--but it's hard to picture him at work. He doesn't seem like the type, especially not on the morning of his last day, when an old customer approaches him and he wearily advises him, "Take your jones somewhere else." Monty is played by Edward Norton as a man who bitterly regrets his greed. He should have gotten out sooner--taken the money and run. He stayed in too long, someone ratted on him, and the feds knew exactly where to look for the cocaine. He dreads prison not so much because of seven lost years, but because he fears he will be raped. His friends see his future more clearly. They are Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school English teacher, and Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street trader. Talking sadly with Jacob, Frank spells out Monty's options. He can kill himself. He can become a fugitive. Or he can do the time, but when he comes out his life will never be the same and he will not be able to put it together in any meaningful way. Frank's verdict: "It's over." The film reflects this elegiac tone as it follows Monty's last hours of freedom. He has been lucky in his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), and in his father, James (Brian Cox). Although he suspects that Naturelle could have been his betrayer, we see her as a good-hearted young woman who knows how to read him, who observes at a certain point in the evening that Monty doesn't want company. The father, a retired fireman, runs a bar on Staten Island. Most of his customers are firemen, too, and the shadow of 9/11 hangs over them.
Monty has given his father money to pay off the bar's debts. He has moved with Naturelle into a nice apartment. Both the father and the girl know where the money comes from. His dad disapproves of drugs but has a curious way of forgiving his son: He blames himself. Because he was a drunk, because his wife died, it's not all Monty's fault.
The screenplay is by David Benioff, based on his novel. It contains a brilliant sequence where Monty looks in the mirror of a restroom and spits out a litany of hate for every group he can think of in New York--every economic, ethnic, sexual and age group gets the f-word, until finally he sees himself in the mirror and includes himself. This scene seems so typical of Spike Lee (it's like an extension of a sequence in "Do the Right Thing") that it's a surprise to find it's in the original novel--but then Benioff's novel may have been inspired by Lee's earlier film.
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