In 25th Hour's prologue good-looking intelligent Monty Brogan (Ed Norton) rescues a dog that's been severely injured in a fight and left to die taking it in and making it his closest companion. The kind gesture does not make this guy an upstanding citizen as we discover when the meat of the movie begins. Monty is a drug dealer and he has only 24 hours before he goes to prison for seven years. He spends those hours weighed down by the certainty that when he reaches prison he'll be beaten like his dog--or worse--and the only question is whether or not he'll be left to die. Wrestling with his fear he spends all day and all night getting drunk and talking things over with the people from his past who matter most to him: his father (Brian Cox) an Irish bar owner and his best friends Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a teacher and Francis (Barry Pepper) an investment banker. The conversations are held against a highly politicized backdrop of post-Sept. 11 New York City and the resulting film is an incredibly powerful and intense look at what it means to be a hero a friend and a human being.
Norton leads this stellar cast with an Oscar-worthy performance as the tough yet vulnerable Monty Brogan. In a defining moment for his character in the bathroom of his father's bar (a popular hangout for a fire brigade that lost many members in the terrorist attacks) Norton's reflection in the mirror delivers a racist homophobic anti-Semitic anti-everyone monologue against the city of New York and all its inhabitants. In a matter of minutes with a deliberately paced montage of faces people and places onscreen under his voice Norton solidifies his place among Hollywood's legends not only for delivering the lines so well but for having the courage to deliver them at all given the current climate of patriotic emotion and American nationalism. Pepper too may see Oscar accolades for his intense performance as the opinionated friend who both loves and loathes Monty--and who ultimately makes a tremendous sacrifice in the name of both those emotions. Hoffman delivers quiet creepiness as a high school teacher in love with his slightly bizarre student (Anna Paquin) while Rosario Dawson gives the best performance of her career as Monty's girlfriend Naturelle. Cox reserved as Monty's father through most of the movie gives a final poetic monologue that ends 25th Hour on a perfectly ambiguous note.
As Shakespearean dramas use their characters' situations to elaborate on a political situation so do director Spike Lee and writer David Benioff make Monty's struggle to come to terms with his future in prison every man's struggle to answer questions that loom large in this age of fallen heroes terrorism and war. What do our collective futures hold? How do we reconcile the heroes we would like to be with the mundane evils we commit every day? Monty embodies the city of New York--like Hamlet in Denmark he is its mad prince--and as such he holds in himself all the anger and hope the city has harbored since Sept. 11. "F*** this city and everyone in it " Monty's reflection says at the close of his monologue. "No " Monty tells it "f*** you Monty Brogan." In typical Lee fashion the post-9/11 New York footage is neither a plea for sympathy and peace nor a rallying cry to the troops and patriots; it's a statement of fact that inspires debate--these events happened and they haunt the city just as Monty's pending imprisonment haunts him. There's no doubt that this refusal to give a pat answer to the questions hanging over us all since 9/11 will create discussion if not controversy but Lee has always demanded critical thinking from his audience on issues of race ethnicity and above all humanity. 25th Hour is no exception. Spike Lee continues to make the kind of uncompromising films that Hollywood could use more of.