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The 25th Hour - Preview



Preview by: Jack Foley

"PEOPLE ask me what 25th Hour is about and I say, 'Edward Norton plays a drug dealer who spends his last 24 hours of freedom in post-9/11 New York City..." - director, Spike Lee.

The clock is ticking on Monty Brogan's freedom - in 24 hours, he goes to prison for seven years. Once a king of Manhattan, Monty (Edward Norton) is about to say goodbye to the life he knew - a life that opened doors to New York's best clubs, but also alienated him from the people closest to him.

In his last day on the outside, Monty tries to reconnect with his father (Brian Cox), who's never given up on his son, and gets together with his closest two friends from the old school days, Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an angst-ridden teacher who harbors a crush on one of his pupils, and Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street whizz who likes to take risks and talk straight.

Thrown into the mix is his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), who might (or might not) have been the one that tipped off the cops.

Monty's unsure of much nowadays, but with prison approaching, there are some important choices to be made and some questions that just need answering...

Great premise, great cast, superb film. Spike Lee's 25th Hour is cinema at its rawest and finest, no doubt boosted by a terrific cast, but gripping viewing, nonetheless. Set in a post-9/11 New York City, the film is packed with moral complexities, pulling viewers this way and that as they attempt to gain some understanding of the choices made by Monty and his friends during the course of their lives.

It is due to be released in the UK on April 25 and should not be missed by any fans of performance-driven cinema (Indielondon will deliver its verdict around the same time).

The idea for the film originated with David Benioff's acclaimed novel, published in 2001, who subsequently adapted it into a screenplay for Spike Lee and co. And despite the fact that its central character is an unsavoury drug dealer, Lee wasn't fazed at all.

"I don't choose which films to direct based on how sympathetic the characters are," he said. "Monty Brogan is a drug dealer - and people will find that unsympathetic. But a lot of times, unsympathetic characters make the best movies, and the best stories. That's how I choose my projects - I choose stories that are interesting to me."

The same applies to Norton, who was drawn to the emotional pull of the film. "Monty is a drug dealer, but he is not necessarily a bad person," he explains. "He and his family and friends have complicated, mixed feelings about each other and about the choice's he's made. To me, the script felt like real life, which is rare...

"This is a story that explores themes that people will be familiar with. We all have friendships that are based on past history, but perhaps have lost a strong connection in the present. Sometimes you sit down with someone you have known for a long time and think, 'If I met you now, we would not be friends'.

"But history between you binds you. The script explores the way that friendships can devolve, cruising on past history despite resentments that have grown and not been expressed and the way that people can diverge without acknowledging it."

25th Hour co-star, Barry Pepper, was also drawn to the emotions on show, which tip-toe a fine line between love and hate. He explains: "These are basic emotions that all friends deal with. There are always elements of jealousy or a desire for what the other has, and I think that those are very present within our friendship.

"So, there are definitely a lot of turbulent emotions throughout the film, but I think hate is far too strong a word for any of the emotions that they feel for one another. I think love is a much more resounding theme, because they realise in the end that they love each other like brothers, but they despise some of the choices each other have made in life, and wish that it could be like when they were kids."

The other element explored in the film is New York City itself - a city still attempting to come to terms with its own injuries, post 9/11.

Spike Lee wanted to include it because he felt that it would have been 'irresponsible as artists' if we shot the film in New York City and people were walking around like 9/11 never happened.

"When you watch this film, you see that it's definitely a post-9/11 NYC," explains Lee. "We didn't have the mentality that we couldn't talk about it. This was something that happened, and I think it should be acknowledged."

Adds Pepper: "There is a picture window that overlooks the Ground Zero site. I could see that entire site with all the bulldozers and men working and it was all lit up. It was just an awesome sight and it is just this powerful moment that is there for the audience to absorb. It is so current with what we are dealing with globally."


What the US critics had to say...

The critical reaction from American critics was generally positive, with many hailing it to be Spike Lee's finest film in years. Entertainment Weekly, for instance, awarded it a B+ and said that 'Lee, as he did in Malcolm X and Clockers, makes his hero's dread palpable, and though 25th Hour lacks the glittering brilliance of those films, I was held by the toughness and pity of Lee's gaze'.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, declared that 'Lee has created that rarity in filmmaking: a movie we need, right now', while Variety wrote that this 'character-driven pic provides strong opportunities for a fine ensemble of actors and for Lee, maintaining his signature style, to depart from his regular ethnic territory ... and to deliver one of his more interesting recent films'.

The New York Times, meanwhile, felt that 'if 25th Hour does not quite work as a plausible and coherent story, it produces a wrenching, dazzling succession of moods'.

Rolling Stone declared that 'Lee is firing on all cylinders, and the actors match his energy', while the Chicago Tribune hailed it 'a superb film'.

EFilmcritic.com, meanwhile, said that it was 'without question, the very best film of 2002, and Spike Lee's best film to date. Includes a sequence that should and will go down in cinematic history'.

The New York Observer urged readers to 'see it for Edward Norton, who does his usual job of turning sackcloth into satin', while the New York Post felt that it was 'Spike's best since Do the Right Thing'.

Less positive, however, was Hollywood Reporter, which felt that 'the story line is flaccid and episodic, the direction lacks vitality, and the observations are mundane', while the Los Angeles Times went one worse, opining that 'there are two films at war in director Spike Lee's newest feature, 25th Hour, one uninteresting, the other an epic of near-tragic miscalculation'.

But in the main, the word was generally good (and deservedly so), with the San Francisco Chronicle concluding this round up by declaring it to be 'the first great 21st Century movie about a 21st Century subject'.

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