You have one single day to be free on earth, or 24 hours more exactly, after which you would be behind the bars , so what do you do?
Well i know this sounds like one of the questions you get in a psychological test, where you are given a what if scenario, and your reply would assess what kinda person you were, supposedly. For Monty Brogan( Ed Norton), however the question has very little to do with his character assessment, it is a question that could actually decide his life over the next 24 hours. We see Monty in the opening shot of the movie, as he stops his car, to tend to an injured pit bull. His friend, a heavy set looking Ukrainian, Kostya Novotny, wonders whether it’s worth spending time, when more pressing issues beckon ahead. Kostya’s anxiety to avoid the cops, hints at the criminal activities the duo are involved in. Monty however is more concerned with the dog, much to Kostya’s chagrin, and his primary aim is to get the dog treated at a vet. The opening scene, establishes both Monty and Kostya, both on the wrong side of the law, one cool and composed, the other fidgety and nervous. As the car speeds away with the dog, the camera slowly zooms in to The Tribute in Light, at Ground Zero, a montage of the massive spotlights, shooting their beams upwards, glowing bright, creating a haunting visual imagery. The lights glow in the sky, as the opening credits flash over the screen to the haunting background score of Terence Blanchard.
Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, could have as well been sub titled One Day in the Life of Monty Brogan, dealing as it is with the character’s last 24 hours as a free person. We come to know that Monty has been a former drug dealer, who has just one day to live his life as a free person, before he goes behind the bars for a long time. It is the one day where Monty has to brood over what happened, Spike Lee, beautifully setting it up, right after the opening credits, when he is musing, in a park along with his pit bull. It is the one day for Monty to deal with his friends, Jacob Ellinsky( Philip Seymour Hoffman), an English teacher at the very same high school, where he had studied. And Frank Slaughtery( Barry Pepper), a successful hot shot Wall Street trader, both of whom he had invited for a last meet at one of their favorite clubs. And there is his faithful Puerto Rican girl friend Naturelle Riveira( Rosario Dawson), whom he suspects of having ratted about him to the Feds. And most important of all his own father James Brogan( Brian Cox), who feels he has been guilty of turning a blind eye to his son’s activities, and blames himself for Monty’s current plight.
The scene where Monty meets his father, is what begins to set things into perspective. Spike Lee builds up to the sequence beautifully. Monty encountering two kids in the subway, getting into a small game of shooting coins with them, and then encountering one of his older friends Trey in the train, feeling uncomfortable, and then rushing out. One moment standing out here, when Trey’s wife asks him about Monty, and he tells her about how he was thrown out of school for drugs.
You can take the kid out of Bensonhurst, but you can’t take the Bensonhurst out of the kid.
Reference here to Monty’s neighborhood, one of the more notorious ones in New York. In another scene, where Monty is having a bath with his girl friend, he notices a Puerto Rico flag tattoed on her leg. Something he feels uncomfortable with.
You were born in America, you lived in America your whole life, you’ve been to Puerto Rico twice, for vacation. What is that? I should get an Irish flag tattooed on my ass cause my grandparents are from there?
Again in that subway scene, when one of the kids replies back he plays soccer, Monty again he looks at him disgusted, for him basketball and baseball are the only 2 games. In small ways, i felt Spike Lee was depicting the faultlines existing in New York, both along class lines as well as racial lines. Monty’s drug dealing is blamed on his neighborhood, and he some how does not like his girl showing off her Hispanic identity. In fact one of the reasons why Monty feels she could have ratted him on to the Feds, could be that she was an illegal immigrant, one common view most average Americans have about Hispanics.
And then the encounter, with his Dad at the latter’s pub. His father feels guilty, wants to help Monty out, trying some of his old contacts. When his father tells him not to get into trouble, there is silence for a moment. You can feel the tension thick in the air, and then he bursts out
Dad? I fucked up. Okay? What else can I tell you? I fucked up.
And that’s where the best scene of the movie comes in. Monty walks into the washroom, and sees “Fuck You” scrawled on the mirror. Something breaks him in as he goes into a rant against each and every one in New York. Be it the Sikh and Pakistani taxi drivers with their run down cabs. Or the Korean grocers with their overpriced goods, who can speak no English. Or the noveau rich Russian mobsters. Or the Wall Street brokers. Or the rich females on Upper East Side. Or the Puerto Ricans. Or his friends, or his girl whom he feels betrayed him, he goes into a rant against each and every one not even sparing his own father. The movie needs to be seen for this single scene also. Ed Norton’s monologue to me would easily rank right up there with Robert De Niro’s “Some day the rain will wash away all the scum” rant in Taxi Driver. 9/11 and Enron, were the double whammy in 2001, the average American never felt so insecure about himself since Watergate and Vietnam. He needed some one to blame for it, its a fact that many White Americans, blamed immigration and multiculturalism, for 9/11. What Monty was ranting about, here were the feelings of the average American, which i feel is significant. Most of Spike Lee’s earlier movies were about race issues from a Black point of view, for the first time in his career, he was taking a look from the other side of the racial divide.
25th Hour, was one of the earliest movies shot in New York, after 9/11. And while the movie is essentially about Monty Brogan, the underlying context is about New York after 9/11. While the initial shots, of the lights at New York and then the vistas of the city, as Monty begins to reminiscence, were more of New York rising like a phoenix from the ashes, the later moments slowly bring up the fault lines that had crept in the city, along racial and class lines. While the average White American, might not have shown his racism openly, there was a hatred for the others. But the hatred is more out of his insecurity, which again reflects the average New Yorker’s feelings after 9/11, he could never actually trust the person next to him in the same way as he did before. As Monty explains to his Father later.
Everything’s gotten so strange, Dad. I wake up some mornings and it takes me a minute to remember who I am, you know? Where I’m going. Most of the people I’m with, I look at them and I think, these are my friends?
The scene where Frank and Jacob, meet at the former’s huge apartment to discuss about the impending night out with Monty is another excellent one. Jacob finding it hard to believe his old friend would be in the slammer, but then Frank feels that could be the best thing to ever happen to him. And then Frank & Jacob reminiscing about their days at school together. The dialogue between them shows the differences between the 2 characters, Jacob, bookish, unsure about himself, not really knowing the outer world, Frank, cocky, confident. Jacob still feels for Monty, wants to visit him in prison, Frank, the pragmatic, hard nosed realist, feels Monty’s life is as good as over.
The 25th Hour is a movie without a plot, rather it’s series of events in one day of Monty’s life. But it is the key dramatic sub plots, that really keeps one riveted. It’s not just Monty, each and every one has a story to tell. Jacob has a huge crush on Mary D Annunzio( Anna Paquin), a 17 year old student in his class, typical high school teen, tattoos, belly buttons, midriff showing tops, cleavage et all. And yet he can’t bring himself to seduce her, he feels it would be unethical, he does not want to be seen as the pervert. Monty is scared of going to prison, as he feels his good looks would make him a target of gang rape, he asks Frank to beat him up, so that he could look uglier. Frank for all his bravado, sobs hysterically when Monty leaves them. Monty’s father wanting to do everything to assuage his feelings of guilt, badly wanting to give Monty another life, his final speech, memorable.
The 25th Hour is about people post 9/11 in New York. It is a movie that has to be seen, as it lays bare the fault lines, the prejudices, the insecurities of the people around. Without resorting to any sugar coating or pandering to political correctness, Spike Lee examines the heart , mind and soul of New York, through men like Monty, his father, Frank, Jacob and Naturelle. And aided in the process by some exemplary acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the insecure Jacob, Barry Pepper as Frank, and Rosario Dawson as Naturelle, all pitching in some great performances. Brian Cox as the senior Brogan, is brilliant, wonderfully conveying the anguish of a father torn between guilt and hope for his son. And then there is Ed Norton, in a performance right up there with American History X and Fight Club, just brilliant. Be it his monologue in front of the mirror, or his insecurity at having to face the prison not one single false note in his acting.