Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for language, nudity, adult themes
Run Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Spike Lee understands the value of standing on principle. His “25th Hour” is an honest and aggressive valentine to the American way, bolstered by an astounding cast and a virtuoso performance by Edward Norton as convicted felon Monty Brogan, administering to his last day of freedom.
Brogan is the
kind of man who backs into darkness with every intention of keeping himself in
the light. Trying to stay on the straight
and narrow, he nonetheless savors his perch at the pinnacle of
Sentenced to seven years in prison, Brogan gathers his people around him for a final day and night of grim celebration. His last day on the outside is a jumble of chaotic feelings – denial, goodwill and regret. All masked by a cocky swagger that belies Brogan’s ulterior fear of life behind bars.
Lee is masterful at working with talent and squeezing the ultimate performance out of every pore. His in-depth characterization is formatted in a flashback style that deliberately pieces together Brogan’s colorful past. Norton’s mirrored men’s room monologue (slandering race and color with evil abandon) is sheer genius – think “American History X” with bonus rage. Norton hustles alongside pros Brian Cox (as dad James), Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman (the buddies), and sexy Rosario Dawson as his main squeeze. As the ensemble moves through the paces of yet another day in the Big Apple, they shed their emotions like molting rattlesnakes - layer upon layer of feeling exposed with dramatic composure.
The last act loses some energy - climaxing in a preachy, Lee-esque ode to democracy. But the director’s willingness to address some hard realities (drug wars, racial profiling, living adjacent to the ghostly remains of Ground Zero) concocts a bleak spell that’s difficult to resist.