A slow, somber but involving tale from director Spike Lee, "The 25th Hour" stars Edward Norton as Monty Brogan, a nice, intelligent and well-spoken individual who also has been a drug dealer for quite some time. As the film opens, Monty saves a dog who has been injured, despite the fact that the dog seems vicious and even gives Monty a bite. Years later, Monty sits on a park bench, the dog now a loyal follower. When asked to sell by an old customer, Monty refuses and tells him that he got busted.
We find out that Monty got busted for possession and only has twenty-four hours left before he has to report to prison. Early in the film, he plans his last day, which includes spending time with childhood friends Jacob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a high school English teacher, and Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street trader, along with his father (Brian Cox) and his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), who Monty thinks may have tipped off the police. All four - and others - plan for a birthday party later that night. The aftermath of 9/11 is seen in the background, casting a grim and melancholy tone over the film.
Although Lee's long, somewhat fractured film may feel rather aimless at times, I liked the performances and the characters were nicely developed. Most of the dialogue and interactions between characters felt real and natural - the film doesn't zip from conversation to conversation. Some of the speeches almost have an improvisational feel. The acting is terrific, too. Philip Seymour Hoffman is superb as an unhappy man that has fallen for one of his students (Anna Paquin). Hoffman's performance is great - rumpled, a bit sad, but not pathetic. Norton's performance is stellar, as well - he makes the character sympathetic, interesting and still dark and complex. He does an excellent job at never quite revealing all his cards or offering excuses for the character. Pepper ("Knockaround Guys") is excellent as the Wall Street shark angry with Monty for what he's done and angry with himself for not doing something sooner. Paquin (especially good) and Dawson make the best out of their few scenes. Brian Cox is outstanding in a few scenes as Norton's father. He is extremely convincing as Norton's father, while Dawson and North have solid chemistry.
Concerns aside - a bit of tightening would have helped, a subplot or two stop without really finishing, I liked the film. David Benioff's novel (he adapted the book for the screenplay) could have taken the idea of following a drug dealer's last 24 hours before prison and turned it into an action film or high-intensity drama filled with speeches, but instead, made an interesting, character-driven drama. Lee brings his usual eye for remarkable, haunting visuals that look flashy, but somehow still manage to seem appropriate for the film. His unusual way of presenting the story sometimes could use a bit of tightening, but it often worked for the film instead of against it. The film's last thirty minutes - including a sequence that explores what could be for Monty, what should have been for Monty - are among the most powerful and emotional I've seen in a movie in quite a while. Overall, this is one of Spike Lee's finest efforts.
VIDEO: "25th Hour" is presented by Touchstone in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is THX-Certified. Rodrigo Prieto ("8 Mile")'s cinematography is gritty, often desaturated and nearly always fascinating to watch. This transfer shows a couple of flaws once or twice, but otherwise, it's a strong presentation that effectively captures the dramatic look of the film. Sharpness and detail vary somewhat at times, but the image is never less than well-defined.
A few issues do pop up throughout the presentation, but nothing that I found terribly serious. Some edge enhancement - mild amounts in a handful of scenes - does appear. A compression artifact or two also were spotted. On a positive note, the print looked great, with no specks or wear. The grain that appears in some scenes seemed intentional. The largely dark and subdued color palette seemed accurately rendered, with no concerns. Flesh tones also looked accurate and natural. A few issues do present themselves here, but overall, I felt this was a fine transfer.
SOUND: "25th Hour" isn't a film that uses sound aggressively, but there are aspects of the sound design that I appreciated. The surrounds do enter in during the outdoor scenes for some light ambience and occasionally, the rear speakers also offer some reinforcement of Terrence Blanchard's score. But, there are a few scenes where they do more - Norton's voice enters the surrounds in one instance, while record scratches in music during the nightclub scene find their way to the rears, as well. Music is rich and clean, while dialogue and sound effects remained crisp and clear.
Commentaries: The DVD includes two audio commentaries - one from director Spike Lee and one from screenwriter/author David Benioff. I switched back and forth between the two commentaries. Lee's track is generally quite interesting - there are a few moments where he gets off-track or silence interrupts the track, but when he does talk, he switches nicely between fairly detailed discussion of the production, characters and working with the actors. Benioff's commentary is involving, as well. He shares his thoughts about the book's road to production (as he informs early on, Tobey Maguire was originally going to play the lead - personally, I just don't see Maguire playing it as well as Norton does). When not discussing the film's production, issues that were encountered during filming and the pressure of trying to narrow down the novel for the screenplay, he makes some enjoyable comments about how the film turned out. Both tracks have their share of quiet stretches, but I found both to offer good information when their participants were speaking. Having both on the same track discussing the film would have been better though, maybe.
Deleted Scenes: 6 deleted scenes are offered, in rough form. Although the first one, where most of the main characters discuss the power of "sway" was well-done, I'm not sure where it would have went in the movie. The other scenes, while somewhat interesting, should certainly have been left out.
Spike Lee: Evolution of an American Filmmaker During this 22-minute featurette, Ossie Davis, Denzel Washington, Martin Scorsese, Halle Berry, Sydney Lumet and others discuss Lee's career. We're also shown clips, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from the director's films. Although it's difficult to provide a solid overview of a career like this one in twenty minutes and change, this piece does a fine job showing the progression of Lee's career and also, gives some good insights into his films.
Ground Zero: A montage of about five minutes worth of footage that was shot of Ground Zero and the surrounding area is a haunting and saddening reminder of the lives lost on 9/11.
Final Thoughts: "25th Hour" doesn't approach storytelling in a familiar way and although a little tightening could have helped, I felt that the approach worked. The film's performances were strong across the board, and the dialogue was consistently real and interesting - the last 20-30 minutes of this movie are particularly emotional and heartbreaking. Touchstone's DVD offers fine audio/video quality and enjoyable supplements. Those with an interest should at least check it out as a rental first.
The Film *** 1/2