25th Hour ★★★★½

"But it's alright!"

Spike Lee Ranked

25th Hour is easily one of Spike Lee’s greatest works. From the iconic “fuck”-monologue on you can feel the anger that Lee so often outs. With his 2002 film, he once more showed how the world hasn’t changed a single bit since the last time he, or anyone else, screamed to the heavens for help. In fact, that typical anger might have made this “just another” Spike Lee joint, were it not for the tragedy that struck America when this project was only in its early stages. Instead of ignoring the September 11 attacks (how could anyone?), Lee used the atmosphere that was left in the wake of it, to heighten the intensity of his film and it became all the better for it.

Without it, it would’ve probably been a much simpler story. Montgomery Brogan, a drug dealer on his last day as a free man, struggles with the anger for the world, the anger for himself and the questions that haunt him about his future and the people he leaves behind. It would make for an interesting character study and it can’t be denied that Edward Norton gives it his all in this. With rather few words and mostly just the intensity of his presence in a certain environment, he evokes his inward troubles in a surprisingly subdued way. The way his demeanor affects his friends and family speaks even louder. Where Monty often dodges the questions, his friends discuss his situation in lengthy, beautifully written dialogues. Of course, it helps to have talents like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Rosario Dawson in your cast but a lot of the magic happens in those words; the words that are chosen to describe such intense, conflicting feelings. And even though those words already existed in some form before the September 11 attacks, they only gained more power and more meaning afterward; after what Lee did with them.

Lee didn’t just adapt the words for the screen, he adapted them to gain a bigger meaning. After the attacks, America was divided in all kinds of ways. It was confused and looking for answers, looking for the perpetrators. They wanted to find a face to shout at, all the anger that had suddenly freed itself. Lee is known for his anger and has already expressed it several times before and many times since and will probably always do so, but not since his breakthrough with Do the Right Thing has that anger felt so justified. It’s also the first time that anger feels so messy. It’s like somebody’s trying to fire bullets in all directions without actually hitting anything. But that’s how it was. Everybody was shouting, blaming anything they could blame while in the end, all they could really blame was themselves. It’s made clear in that “fuck”-monologue early on in the film and at the very end when Lee sketches a dreamlike “what if?”-scenario à la Mommy in which Monty escapes his jail time to trail back to where the American Dream once began. It’s an uncomfortably tender and even melodramatic sequence that only really hits you when it’s over and you realize what it really meant. Americans tend to go back to that idea of The American Dream way too often as if therein lie all the answers to their problems. But, as Lee shows, it really isn’t much more than a dream. It aches closer to a delusion, the delusion that the common man can’t blame himself and that all his problems are caused by enemies from outside. It’s there where the xenophobic attitude of so many is born. People are so afraid of admitting they were wrong. Even if the way your parents raised you was flawed and even if the neighborhood you grew up in was a dark, grim place, the only one who can decide how your life will go is yourself.

So, as Monty’s father proposes to him to follow the dream and the screen suddenly cuts to black, the audience is left to decide how his story will end. Will he choose to ignore his life up to this point or will he face his situation and earn the hits for what he himself has done wrong? That is ultimately the question Lee asks. More than ever before was there the need to confront people with this question and the way Lee has done this, with a more introspective look at the anger than an outward scream, is an astounding testament to his talent.

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