F.I.L.M. of the Week (October 7, 2011)

7 10 2011

I don’t quite know what inspired me to watch “25th Hour” recently, but I’m certainly glad that I did.  Spike Lee’s 2002 film about the heavy weight of the past and the future that we carry around in the present got little attention at the time, but over time, it has gained some passionate backers, namely Roger Ebert.  That inspired me to check the movie out, and while I don’t think it’s one of my favorites of the decade, it’s good enough to qualify as a “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

David Benioff’s script captures a day of solemn importance in the life of Montgomery “Monty” Brogan, played with typical excellence by Edward Norton.  We follow Monty in the last 24 hours before he must head up to prison to serve a 7 year sentence for dealing drugs.  He is remorseful for his past, apprehensive for his future, and filled with anger and hatred in the moment.  As he spends a day in a sort of purgatory state, we see the uneasy state of his relationships with his friends (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) as they all offer a sort of false optimism.

While this story is quite limited, what makes “25th Hour” such an interesting film (and one that I suspect will be increasingly viewed as a reference for future generations) is how poetically Spike Lee juxtaposes Monty’s biography with the larger tale of society, here post-9/11 New York City.  After the film’s prologue, Lee rolls the opening credits over various takes of the two bright beams of light shining to the heavens from Ground Zero.  Much like Monty, the site is a reminder of the emptiness of that day, while the lights represent a brighter future that can still be rebuilt once the ashes are removed.

In perhaps the film’s most memorable scene, Lee employs a sort of Allen Ginsberg-meets-NWA rhythmic lyricism to express the pent-up rage that many New Yorkers felt in the wake of the tragedy.  It’s an unsettling, no-holds-barred diatribe against the city and everyone in it, and a man like Monty about to lose everything is the perfect person to deliver it.  Yet “25th Hour” is not just a movie of anger; indeed, Lee, ever the New York filmmaker, makes his movie an admiring tribute to the city’s strength and perseverance.  Even as Monty heads off to the pen, there’s a smiling child on the bus in the next lane willing to smile at him.