Five stars.

This was a great movie. Just to give you an outline, the film follows the final day of freedom for Monty (Ed Norton) before he goes to prison for dealing. The 25th HourThe story is extremely well crafted, revealing enough backstory, at the right times, to keep you right there with the film, but also edited so well that the flashbacks merge with and add meaning to the scenes in the present. You constantly are asking the question, “what is going on here?” and getting just enough information to understand the scene that just happened as the next one unfolds.

The entire film has a grainy, gritty feel to it that fits perfectly the subject matter and the setting (New York). Going even further, this is the first film I’ve seen which uses 9/11 as a character, affecting the actors and actively participating in the meaning of the story. 9/11 isn’t used in a gratuitous, hit-you-over-the-head-with-symbolism way, but as a force of nature and a characteristic of the city, like Times Square or Central Park.

The film’s opening credits are a beautiful example of the integration of 9/11. The film opens with the beams from the “towers of light” artistically shot in close up, bright beams cutting through a black screen, an abstract exercise in light and dark, but in the end revealed as a monument of a tragic event, and a New York icon as well.

Just like the main character.

Many of the trademark stylistic devices of Spike Lee are present, like the orchestra score (a continuation of He Got Game), and the random rants about the many cultures of New York (think Do the Right Thing). I have to admit, Spike Lee is hit or miss with me. I just don’t think I’m the target audience for half of his movies. But this movie, besides starring a white guy, was just so raw and powerful.

Everyone involved gave great performances, Ed Norton (always fantastic) was the best, but Barry Pepper, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who will always be ‘that guy who kissed Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights ’ to me), and Brian Cox all gave outstanding supporting performances.

Be warned though. It’s a dark movie. It’s about a dark subject: paying the price for your mistakes. And the film explores quite a few angles about its protagonist, he’s a bit of a “dealer with a heart of gold” but the wonderful power of the movie is that the response from the world of the movie is: “So what. Tough break.”

And that’s what’s so strong. You know there is this terrible thing looming just above the horizon. You know that there is no happy ending for anyone involved. But that doesn’t take away the impact of watching the car crash as it unfolds in front of you, slowly, a frame at a time, just like it does in real life.

The 25th Hour is powerful. It’s firing on all pistons (acting, directing, cinematography, score) to give you a slap in the face dose of “when bad things happen to people, period” kind of storytelling.

Rent it if you want to be smacked around a little. And then go back to your life where you’re not driving yourself to prison for seven years.

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