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25th Hour Reviews

Spike Lee's compelling film, written by David Benioff (who adapted his own novel), is ostensibly about convicted drug dealer Monty Brogan's (Edward Norton) last 24 hours of freedom before he begins a seven-year prison sentence. But it's also a vision of post-9/11 New York City and its inhabitants. Monty counts some less than favorable characters among his associates, but he's charismatic, attractive and compassionate, the kind of guy who'll rescue a badly beaten dog even when his own troubles are weighing heavily on his mind. Everybody seems to like Monty — he's got people skills to spare — but he only allows a few to get close to him. That select group includes his seductive younger girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson); his obnoxious Ukrainian bodyguard, Kostya (Tony Siragusa); his estranged but well-meaning father (Brian Cox); and two high-school pals, Wall Street hustler Francis Xavier Slaughtery (Barry Pepper) and teacher Jakob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Over the course of a single tumultuous day, Monty attempts to make amends to each and to discover who turned him in to the cops. Several friends question Naturelle's motives, and Monty can't help but wonder whether they have a point. But as the day wears on, the initially urgent question of responsibility takes on a different cast. During the film's pivotal moment, Monty is compelled to stare at himself in the mirror and conclude that he can't keep blaming other people for his own mistakes. The sequence is archetypal Lee, complete with a provocative tirade and its accompanying montage, but it's also undeniably powerful. And while Edward Norton convincingly portrays both the good and bad side of his conflicted man, a great deal of the insight into his character comes from the strong supporting cast. Monty's story is the film's main focus, his two best friends have well fleshed-out stories as well, including a surprisingly complex subplot involving Jakob's attraction to a 17-year-old student (Anna Paquin). Lee's decision to include footage of Manhattan's ravaged financial district — including the raw pit where the World Trade Center once stood — is generally successful, though the images occasionally threaten to overwhelm the characters. Lee's greatest miscalculation, though, is the way he uses Terence Blanchard's bombastic score, which overpowers quietly poignant moments like the scene in which Slaughtery and Jacob discuss Monty's fate while staring out the window at the clean-up crew methodically going about their business at Ground Zero.