Released in 2002 and based on a David Benioff novel of the same name, 25th Hour is a story of a convicted drug dealer who is headed for seven years in prison. As his last day before prison approaches, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) has 24 hours to look back at his life, spend some time with his closest friends and family and figure out a way to survive the prison. Simultaneously, the story also explores three of his closest friends and the choices made by them, in the past as well as the choices they will make in future. Edward Norton delivers another strong performance and gives a humane touch to the tragedy of this hardcore criminal, making you sympathize with him. Although the film won much critical acclaim, it failed to impress audiences and went largely unnoticed.
Directed by Spike Lee and written by David Benioff, the film starts with Monty Brogan rescuing an injured and vicious stray dog, despite being advised to the contrary by his friend Kostya Novotny (Tony Siragusa). The opening credits roll, and the music and theme turn dark and gloomy. The credits roll with a scene shifting to the 9/11 memorial and the column of light which marks the place where the twin towers once stood. The emptiness of New York is emphatic.
Monty Brogan is sitting on a bench after a morning walk, and is approached by a drug addict. Monty brushes him aside, and it is revealed that Monty has been caught. He then starts walking with his dog, Doyle, to his old school. He meets his old friend Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is an English teacher in the same school. They plan a get together at a local club in the evening. Elinksy invites Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), who is a successful Wall Street trader, to the get together. Brogan goes back home and meets his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson). Together they discuss about his last night as freeman and the party which is being thrown by Uncle Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili) at the same local club where Brogan plans the get together. Meanwhile, the film introduces each character (Elinsky, Frank, and Naturelle) by a series of flashbacks and short storylines. It also tells how Monty Brogan was caught. Monty then goes to meet his father James Brogan (Brian Cox) at his Irish pub. They discuss Monty’s mistakes, his past and future as well as the possibility of Naturelle having tipped off the police. Here the most famous sequence of the film, where Monty rants out against everyone else in the city, takes place. Elinsky meets Frank at his apartment overlooking WTC crash site. Frank explains how after tonight Brogan will never be the same again. They later meet at a Chinese restaurant and question each other’s choices and decisions. A flashback reveals how Naturelle and Monty came to know each other. Elinsky and Frank meet Naturelle at a bar, and after that they go to the club where Elinsky runs into one of his students, Mary D’Annunzio (Anna Paquin).
It is in the bar that some of the best scenes of the movie take place. This forms the core of the movie. The different characters question and explain their choices, make accusations, doubt each other, act impulsively and discover something shocking, and finally a truth is revealed. Uncle Nikolai finally gives tips to survive the prison to Monty. Next morning the three friends go to a park, and another great sequence plays out. All the hidden feelings that the friends had for each other, finally bursts out. They end up telling each other what they had always wanted to.
Back home, Monty’s father arrives to take him to the prison. On the way they reflect upon what all has happened. On the way, he sees the various people that he had earlier ranted out against, smile back at him. He takes back all his words.
The film ends with a haunting monologue by Monty’s father, where he explains how Monty’s life will turn out if he runs away instead of going to jail. He closes the monologue with the most poignant line of the film, ‘this life came so close to never happening’. It is now that you realise that the film is all about choices that people make.
The film largely follows the book, but since the book was published before 9/11 and the film made after that, certain subtle changes are made to incorporate that tragedy into the subtext of the storyline. The acting is superb and all the individual characters have been convincingly developed. The internal conflicts that the teacher, the drug dealer and the share broker face are engaging. Monty’s verbal diatribe against New York is memorable, as it turns from funny to sarcastic to plain sad and tragic as Monty realises that he has only himself to blame for all his ills. Throughout the film you are constantly reminded of humanity and the need to bond together. The tragedy of the drug dealer makes you sympathetic to him.
The tone of the film is depressing and haunting yet very powerful. The film combines multiple themes: condemnation, redemption, choice, blame, human relations, culpability and it is difficult to point any one as a dominant one. There is limited humour and even that gets remorseful.
The film is technically good with superb dialogues, score and cinematography. The monologue in the end is accompanied by a brilliant piece by Terrence Blanchard. It enhances the poignant mood of the monologue. Similarly, the scene in which Monty rants out at New York is made more powerful by an accompanying jazz piece.
The film portrays relationships among friends and may force the viewers to analyze their own lives. It may make you question your choices as well as the consequences. But the overall message is very clear: you are responsible for your own choices.
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