25th Hour

25th Hour (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Spike Lee
viewed: 08/18/03

The narrative of Spike Lee’s drama, 25th Hour, is a about a man’s last night of freedom before heading to prison for a drug charge. But, as many people have noted, Lee takes this story of reflection and casts it onto the image of New York City as a whole, not simply as setting and background, but with as much a significant role as a primary character (a best friend, perhaps), which is not altogether hard to see or inorganic necessarily.

What seems much more significant about such a meditation is the timing of it. Much has been noted about the fact that Lee went ahead with the already-planned filming of this movie in New York City, not long after the World Trade Center attacks in September of 2001. And this event is duly signified in the film: in an opening sequence in which the nighttime NY skyline is seen with two powerful rays of light rising in the space that the World Trade Center towers once stood, in a scene shot in which “Ground Zero” is clearly seen as a backdrop (even noted by one of the characters quite explicitly), and also in a direct-address diatribe that the star Edward Norton delivers on New Yorkers, stereotypes, and more.

It’s interesting to see because the subject still seems so fresh, as this film was in production probably less than a year after the event. It’s not the speed of light, of course, but for a major Hollywood production, the film seems to have a social awareness of the present, at least, that seemed more timely and poignant than most. It will, of course, be interesting to see how history treats the events of September 11th, 2001, and how this film’s commentary is read would skew as well, one would think.

All this said, this stuff doesn’t necessarily dominate the film, which is probably a good thing. The film is otherwise a fairly solid mainstream Hollywood drama. It features a cast of Hollywood’s stronger mainstream actors, including Norton, Brian Cox, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Anna Paquin, and it’s a pretty good film.

When Spike Lee directed Summer of Sam back in 1999, much was made of the fact that it was his first film to not have a primarily African-American cast and narrative focus. This film is similarly atypical of Lee’s other films. Maybe no one made much of this because there isn’t much to say. Maybe it’s not a notable fact.

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