The Value of Second Chances
The original novel on which 25th Hour is based did not take place after the events of 9/11. However, director Spike Lee decided to include the ghost of that tragedy in his latest movie. Relating the story of a drug-dealer's final, reflective 24 hours of freedom, the film's main narrative could have stood distinctly in the foreground -- with recovering New York City serving merely as backdrop. But in this movie, both elements sorrowfully intertwine, commenting on regrets, the future, and lost opportunities.
25th Hour focuses primarily on Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) and the last night he spends with his Puerto Rican girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) and two best friends, rich stockbroker Francis (Barry Pepper) and repressed high school teacher Jakob (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As splendidly played out by the cast, all of whom must have relished this actor's showcase, most of the film is filled with conversations and interactions among the characters, each of them confronting their feelings of unease -- anger, sadness, hope against seeming futility -- as they contemplate Monty's impending seven-year prison engagement. The more realistic of the group know Monty's life is essentially over -- he will have no second chances in this world.
The value of a second chance emerges as a strong element in Lee's film. The movie begins with Monty and a drug-dealing associate stopping their car to check out a dog who has been wounded and left for dead. Monty issues a mercy-killing for the canine until he sees how much spunk the creature still displays. He rescues it instead, and for much of the rest of the movie we see Monty together with his dog, an animal as good as gone were it not for its unlikely second chance at life.
A second chance is what the victims of 9/11 never had. They didn't even have what Monty has -- 24 hours to sort through his affairs, and some time to enjoy what he can before life as he knows it is gone. Keeping this in mind makes a wistful "what if" sequence quite heartbreaking. Monty's father (Brian Cox) describes a scenario in which the possibility of Monty's running away from his imprisonment is explored. Here, Monty's second chance consists of starting over, possibly getting married and having a story to tell to his growing family. His father ends the fantasizing speech with, "to think, it came this close to never happening." Sadness comes from realizing the relevance of this statement to the lives of victims of the 9/11 tragedy.
With 25th Hour, Spike Lee delivers a touching character-driven drama that contains a personal eulogy to the victims of 9/11. I wish I could have embraced it more than I did, but, on more than one occasiom, I haven't responded well to the way Lee sometimes overplays his hand while trying to be provocative, even in a relatively non-confrontational film like this one. The movie includes one effective scene where two of the characters discuss Monty's fate by a window overlooking Ground Zero at night, but the scene ends with in-your-face close-up images of the clean-up work below. Another example involves Terence Blanchard's excellent score -- it's ever-present, but in a few instances the volume increases to over-heighten dramatic effect. The final scene of the movie contains several shots zooming in on little American flags attached to cars -- I agree with the sentiment of patriotism, but grabbing for attention like this can be distracting. Although my concerns are minor, together they contribute to an interrupted rhythm preventing me from becoming as lost in the movie as I would like to be.
Sometimes, however, the forcefulness works. The most effective scene in 25th Hour shows Monty delivering a tirade in front of a mirror, cursing the multiple, disparate petty factions of New Yorkers, moving on to railing against terrorists, his friends, and, finally, himself. It is reminiscent of the montage of derogatory slurs in Do the Right Thing, only this time, instead of allowing the rants to open-endedly expose the seething ugly side of diversity, a feeling of pride for the overall unified strength of this diversity is allowed to surface. When Monty finishes his rant, he realizes his own actions are more accountable for his fate than those of outside forces. By the time the movie begins to close, the many faces of New York show themselves again, proudly taking part in the city's collective identity. As Monty's father says, New Yorkers are strong people, and 25th Hour urges them to make the most of their city's second chance.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "R" for strong language and some violence.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.