There are always a few people who are well-regarded by critics or a group of fans and you can’t understand why. Woody Allen will always be a mystery to certain audiences. There are people like Tarantino or Zack Snyder where you know exactly why they’re well-regarded and you can’t understand the fans, but that’s another story. Spike Lee is hard to get into if you aren’t on his wavelength. There’s a lot of style there, but there’s a perspective he’s associated with that can push you away. If you’ve never been able to get into Lee’s movies–other than Inside Man (2006)–see 25th Hour (2002) and think again. If Lee is bombastic and aggressive, 25th Hour is quiet and thoughtful. It’s a New York movie like no other.
Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is a day away from a 7-year prison sentence for dealing drugs (heroin). He’s going to meet up with his old buddies Jake (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a school teacher, and Frank (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street master of the universe. Monty’s not taking it so well. He’s become distanced from his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) because he’s got some doubts about how he got busted. He asks his father (Brian Cox), but he trusts her. Kostya (Tony Siragusa), his associate in crime, thinks it’s her. How else did they know exactly where the drugs were? He’s got a lot to think about. Like a meeting with Uncle Nikolai (Levan Uchaneyshvili) later tonight. How did he get here?
There’s a lot that I like about this movie. First, the score (Terence Blanchard) is amazing. As with a few moments in this movie, it goes right up to the top but doesn’t fall over. Played against the towers of light, in place of the Twin Towers, it’s incredibly moving. Second is the fact that this is Monty’s story, but there’s time to spend with his friends and where they are in their life, what they’re about, and why they’re important to him. Third is the ending which I won’t go into too much except to say that its biblical echoes leave you with the perfect calm to tie out the movie. Everything about the movie is excellent, but those three are what make it special for Spike Lee.
But any director can take up a new subject matter without causing any second thoughts on their skills. Often times, a new genre or tone makes you realize what kind of a hack that person is. All they can do is crime or broad comedies, etc. With 25th Hour, Lee’s visual style is easier to appreciate because there isn’t (always) a face shouting at you, distracting you from the composition. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto‘s composition and lighting is striking and beautiful at times. I’d love to see it on blu ray (out in June). But my point isn’t “Hey, look, Spike can make a good movie”, but that I can go back and watch his earlier movies with a better appreciation of what I’m looking at. Some directors have a decidedly downward trajectory when their own voice begins to crowd out your projection of what they’re about. It’s nice when it works the other way.
Mentioned in this review…(paid links)
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