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25th Hour (2002)

by British Film Critic

I am quite a few films into my Spike Lee binge so far, and I’ve got to say, I’m finding it very hard to dislike any of his films so far. There’s something about his direction that just works. With that being said, 25th Hour’s direction as a whole came as a bit of a shock to me, first and foremost because this feels like the least ‘Spike Lee’ film I’ve seen of his to date.

It’s certainly a credit to the man that he’s able to surprise me in that way, but considering how much I love Spike, and the direction of his I’ve become accustomed to, that lack of familiarity didn’t help – that is, until the film shows its true colours, until it reveals itself as what it is, at least in my eyes, and that’s a solemn, melancholic ode to New York City, from the mind of someone who’s passion for the place knows no bounds, and from the post-911 era, with the latter context giving the film another firm layer of personality and, more importantly, emotional weight. Suffice to say, in the moments when I could see Spike in the film (Monty’s New York monologue particularly stands out), that’s where the film truly shines.

25th Hour revolves around a really simple, fascinating, and equally terrifying concept, that being Edward Norton’s Monty has been caught out dealing drugs, and is one day away from serving 7 consecutive years in prison for his offence. We spend the – more or less – 24 hours with Monty, as he confronts what he sees as very well being the end of his life as he knows it – there’s a melancholy that comes with the film that feels more than appropriate, considering its connection to New York, and to that effect, the relatively recently 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Spike Lee’s attachment to the city itself, and that gives 25th Hour an edge, but also a really personal, powerful emotional element.

The film misses out with a lack of a script from Lee, but Benioff does occasionally tap into something really poignant, even if it doesn’t quite feel fitting for Lee and his direction. 25th Hour is a film that is a testament to the diversity of Lee’s filmography, and even if it’s one of his lesser works, it’s bright spots shine really bright.