25th Hour (Lee, 2002)

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Rarely has a movie left me speechless after different viewings years apart, but Spike Lee’s masterpiece 25th Hour has done just that. It’s a densely layered text, chalk full of post 9/11 rage, impotence, and heartache, however it’s more of a personal requiem than anything else. Edward Norton’s Monty, who spends his last free night with his family and friends before embarking on a seven year jail term for drug dealing, dies a little in each scene, anticipating the hell of lockup with fluid, breathtaking flashbacks of his misguided life. Lee’s use of camera and space evoke a slow build toward a typical Hollywood ending – of escape, suicide, sacrifice? But as the end credits role over Terrence Blanchard’s brilliant score, we realize Monty’s not that lucky, nor are we the audience. The decisions we make obviously affect those around us, but Lee paints a stunning picture of the time we spend thinking about those ramifications, an act sometimes worse than prison itself. As Monty wonders about the life he could have with his girlfriend had he not been imprisoned, the sadness and waste overwhelms any judgement of him as a character. Lee achieves something mesmerizing in this film, and it’s because of story and not flashy violence, or dialogue, or clever plotting. For a director known to hit you over the head with social messages, Lee crafts a subtley brutal realization of life’s tragedies. In 25th Hour, everything from the epic opening credits remembering the empty WTC space to the imageless sounds of a beaten and broken canine take full focus, reminders of the toll senseless violence and crime can have on a community. However, it’s Monty’s slow disintigration which ends up stinging the most.

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