When Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) stares at himself in the mirror, he can only feel disgusted, betrayed, and defeated. He begins to curse out every race and creed in New York City. He truly sees how ugly the people of New York can be; because tomorrow, Monty Brogan is going to prison.
Spike Lee's "25th Hour" takes us back to the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. We are reminded of life in the weeks following, when flowers and teddy bears still littered the streets, and novelty "Bin Laden Wanted" signs hung in every office.
Starting tomorrow, Monty will begin serving his seven year prison sentence for possessing a kilo of cocaine in his apartment. The crotch kicker comes in the beginning when we learn that Monty was almost out of the business. He was ready to take his profits and walk out--from the drugs and his association with the Russian Mafia. But his greed kept him in the circle, and as he admits, he would probably still be doing it had he not been caught.
But someone snitched and led the authorities to his apartment. His life hits rock bottom, but he's still in good company, especially in the care of his father, James (Brian Cox) and his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson). He also has two faithful friends, Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school English teacher, and Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), a lively stock trader.
It is possible that one of the aforementioned was the one who alerted the authorities that led to Monty's capture and prison sentence. Naturelle is quickly labeled a suspect, because she can enjoy Monty's nice apartment and left-over fortunes with him locked up. But Monty isn't that concerned about who got him into his mess. He just wants to spend his last day of freedom with the people close to him.
Before the group spends one final night out on the town together, we see the supporting characters in their line of work. Frank is an energetic stock trader with the money to back up his reputation. I expected him to be the cold character, but instead he offers the right support to a friend who will never be the same when 7 years pass. Monty's other best friend is Jacob, a shy and confidence-lacking high school English teacher. He is attracted to one of his students, Mary D'Annunzio (Anna Paquin), but isn't a sexual predator like many real-life sleazy teachers. In one scene he confesses, telling Frank that he isn't a pervert. He just has an undeniable attraction to Mary.
The screenplay was written by David Benioff. He also wrote the novel, before September 11. The addition of the elements from that tragic Tuesday morning fit perfectly. We all lost something that day, and we all had to make an adjustment in our lives, even if it only meant putting the events behind us. For Monty, his loss is freedom, and his adjustment will be seven years of prison.
Monty dreads prison, not because he will lose seven years of his life at prime, but because he may not survive being the pretty boy that he is. In one moving scene, he has his friend Frank do the unthinkable, beat the living hell out of him so he won't be attractive to prospective rapists. His request of Jacob isn't half as bad. All he has to do is look out for his dog Doyle, a vicious canine who nearly bled to death before Monty rescued him. The name Doyle comes from mafia partner Novotny, who mistakenly replaces Murphy when using the phrase, 'Doyle's Law.' Novotny is played by first-time actor Tony Siragusa of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, and fits well as the oversized mafia goon.
The acting is top-notch, thanks to a strong cast led by, in my opinion, Barry Pepper. He played a similar role in "Knockaround Guys," and continues the trend of being a loyal companion. Norton shines again, taking charge of his role the way he did in "Red Dragon." Anna Paquin doesn't struggle as the sexy and seductive student who plays a key role in the nightclub scene.
As the night quickly becomes the following morning, Monty takes Naturelle and his friends to a nightclub where he is known, and they are treated in the VIP lounge. Before entering the club, Jacob is spotted by Mary who uses him to get into the overcrowded club. We don't know if she purposely takes advantage of the weak Jacob, and we don't know if she knows that he is attracted to her until the scene where we see her priceless facial expression after he kisses her in the bathroom.
There is no resolve to the student/teacher relationship sub-plot as well as many others. Maybe that's because there is no resolve for Monty's character. There is no payoff for him so it seems only appropriate to not see a happy ending in everyone else's tale. But I don't believe Lee purposely neglected the paralleling stories. He was too concentrated on Monty's struggle, which led to the other characters getting shortchanged.
"25th Hour" is a great movie that isn't afraid to step out of bounds. Few movies to this date have touched the September 11th events, and I wouldn't be surprised if this film hadn't either if it weren't a Spike Lee Joint. Lee is also fearless when it comes to racism, but he does his work elegantly as we see in the scene I mentioned earlier where Monty is cursing out every group. They all get the F-word, they all receive his spit. He even tags the Enron executives, partners who are possibly 10 times worse than any lowly drug dealer who doesn't rob his clients and the nation for billions of dollars.
It was a sad period to see the movie come to an end. Monty is being driven to prison by his father, who gives him one last chance at freedom. He tells his son that he can run while he has the chance; to move west and start anew. Brian Cox's narration adds the finishing touch to the finale of "25th Hour"--A father gives his son inspiration and a new hope in life.