As part of my double-header on Saturday night, I saw 25th Hour, part of SIFF’s tribute to Edward Norton’s career. As a bonus, he would be introducing the film. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who heard the news:
Still, because no one likes sitting next to strangers, I got another excellent seat, about five or six rows back from the screen. I can also say that I went out the same door to use the bathroom as Edward Norton used to enter the theater. Hey, I’ll grasp at any straws I can!
(I was not the one, however, who yelled, “I love you, Edward Norton!” That was a female.)
I should mention that Norton seemed more relaxed than he had during the Q & A session the night before, probably because he didn’t have to do a Q & A, and because he was addressing a young crowd. He began by talking about the first time he saw Do The Right Thing, saying that he wasn’t sure if we remembered when it came out or not (the audience was largely made up of college students, and even I was only eight at that time), but it was “like a new language,” not only in its depiction of racism, but in its camera usage. It’s the only time, Norton said, that he left a movie theater, bought another ticket, and went back inside to watch the same movie again.
Yep, the director of SIFF got to introduce him again
He was blown away again when he saw He Got Game, after which he wrote Spike Lee a letter saying, basically, “You’re the shit,” and in which he offered to do anything for him, even carry lights. Lee eventually replied and told him that he had something a little better in mind: a role in a movie adaptation of the book, The 25th Hour.
One big difference between the book and the movie is that the movie started filming after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, whereas the book was written before the attacks. Norton said that Lee wanted to address the aftermath of 9/11 in the film, as he couldn’t just pretend that it didn’t happen.
As for the shoot itself, Norton said that some directors won’t acknowledge who their influences are. Lee isn’t like that. Two months before filming began, he screened a film, every night, for the cast and crew. The movies were ones he was looking to for influence as to how to make this film.
One night, he put on Midnight Cowboy. He said he wanted to watch it for “color saturation.” Norton sat behind him. So there’s Lee, hunched forward, watching this film, and when it ends, he turns around and says, “Still a motherfucker!”
So, Norton said he hopes that, years from now, we think 25th Hour is “still a motherfucker.”
The movie begins with Monty (Norton) and Kostya (Tony Siragusa) discovering an abandoned and abused dog on the side of the road. Monty is originally going to kill it (a mercy killing), but when he sees the fight the dog has left in it, he decides to rescue it and bring it to a nearby vet, instead.
We are then treated to the twin beams of light that were projected in the sky for several nights after the September 11th attacks. Notice how Lee frames these opening shots, first by looking straight up into the heavens (the light’s “point of view”), then by framing the beams with separate New York landmarks (the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge). And the first names to appear on the screen: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin. I mean, what a cast!
We cut to present day. Monty still has the dog, named Doyle (a mistake on Kostya’s part, when he mentions “Doyle’s Law” instead of “Murphy’s Law” when they pick up the dog). We find out that this is his last day as a free man. The 25th hour will find him in jail, facing a seven-year sentence for dealing drugs. He will be spending this last day of freedom with his friends, his girlfriend, his father, and his dog.
Monty’s friends include Jacob (Hoffman), a teacher who is lusting after one of his underage students (Paquin), and Frank (Pepper), a stockbroker on Wall Street. His girlfriend is Naturelle (Dawson), whom he suspects of ratting him out to the police. His father (Brian Cox) owns a bar. It was to support him that Monty started dealing in drugs.
His last day is filled with anger, regret, second-guessing, and forgiveness. Flashbacks are expertly handled, and occur at the proper times, in order to bring the audience up to speed. That final day, he meets up with Naturelle, then his dad. Jacob and Frank meet up at Frank’s place, which is right next to Ground Zero, before heading to the bar where they will meet Monty. They then go to a club. Jake’s student, Mary (Paquin), is waiting to get in. Despite his protestations, Monty lets her come with them. The club is owned by Nikolai (Levani Uchaneishvili), the man whom the DEA wanted when they busted Monty.
One regret that Monty doesn’t have is saving Doyle.
“The best thing I ever did was save that dog,” he says. “Every day it has is because of me.”
Night spills into morning. Monty asks Jacob to take care of Doyle for him. He asks Frank for a favor in the club that puts Frank in a foul mood. He asks the same favor again in a park during the early morning hours. When Frank finally complies, crying like a baby afterwards (this is an excellent performance by Pepper, for in that cry, we feel his frustration with himself, for not stopping Monty from doing what he did, his anger at Monty, for making such a mess of his life, and his sadness–which has not been revealed before now–over the truth contained in that 25th hour: that things will never be the same again, that Monty may not be the same person he knew and grew up with when he leaves jail, and that that day is a long ways away).
That scene, and the brilliant sequence near the end of the film, are what elevates this otherwise excellent film into one of the great films of our time. The music, with its plaintive wailing, sometimes threatens to overpower some scenes and plunge the movie into melodrama, but how can it hold back when it is the sound of a city, grief-stricken, crying out for its dead?
That ending sequence. What can I say about it that won’t give it away? As Monty’s father drives him to prison, he gives Monty a choice. That choice is visually realized to perfection in the closing minutes of the film. It may be the greatest thing I’ve seen at the festival so far, and is certainly one of the great cinematic endings, which is why I’m surprised that some critics only noticed this movie’s brilliance when making their Best of the Decade lists. Not that they didn’t give this movie favorable reviews. They did. They just didn’t give the movie the astonishing reviews that it deserved.
Luckily, I was seeing this movie with a college crowd, quite possibly the best crowd to see a movie with. As the credits came up on the screen, a guy in the row in front of me yelled, “STILL a motherfucker!”
This movie was not in competition for the Golden Space Needle Award, so I did not rate the film on a ballot. You should, however, be able to tell from my review what number I would’ve given it.