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Touchstone Home Video presents
"Years from now, you gather your family together and you tell them the whole story. Who you are. Where you come from. And then you ask them if they know how lucky they are to be there."
DVD ReviewSpike Lee, like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, is a New York filmmaker. It isn't just the fact that most of his films take place in the teeming metropolis; it's that they capture the flavor of the city, the unique timbre of the place so distinctly that I know what it means to be in New York or to be a New Yorker, even though I've never been there. The New York of 25th Hour isn't the idealized New York of Manhattan, or even the heated streets of Lee's Do the Right Thing. After 9/11, something in the city, and the nation, changed, and Lee's new film is one of the first from a major American filmmaker to really deal with that change.
That's not to say that this is a 9/11 movie. The tragedy is always there, bubbling under the surface, like it is in life. It's clearly there when two characters stare out at ground zero from the window of a high-rise apartment, but it's also there in smaller, more subtle ways—the characters are all at odds, trying to make sense of their lives, and searching for meaning that seems elusive, just out of reach. It's the story of Monty (Edward Norton), a former drug dealer waiting out his last day before he enters prison for a seven year sentence. We follow him through his final hours as a free man as he tries to make peace with his father (Brian Cox), the owner of a tavern frequented by firemen, who blames himself for his son's misdeeds. He gets together for one last drink with his two closest friends, one of them Frank (Barry Pepper), a Wall Street hotshot, the other Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a sad-sack school teacher, but they aren't really friends anymore—they barely know what to say to one another, and their promises to be there for one another ring false.
Monty seems like a nice guy, and certainly not the type who would sell drugs to school kids. The first thing we see him do is save the life of a dog beaten half to death. He isn't really sorry for his crime, but he is sorry he was caught. He is sorry he has to leave his life and his city and his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), who may or may not have ratted him out to the cops. He's afraid to go to prison because he doesn't know what he'll be like when he comes out. Frank, listing his options, says that his only choices are suicide or to do the time and come out a broken man.
The film is a eulogy of sorts as Monty counts down his last few hours. A series of vignettes reveal a bit about Monty, about his past and his relationship with Naturelle, and about the lives of his friends—Frank's stressful, empty work at the office, and Jacob's nervous stuttering as he interacts with his students, one in particular whom he fancies (Anna Paquin), though she clearly sees him as little more than the middle-aged, overweight lump he is. Both of these stories echo Monty's—all three men are engaged in activities of questionable morality, and all three have their own rationalizations.
Spike Lee has always brought a unique style and energy to his films, and 25th Hour is certainly his most assured. He utilizes various film stocks, montage, and his familiar talk-to-the-camera techniques to craft a hypnotizing whole. David Benioff's script is very literary, but Lee makes it cinematic. There are two powerful monologues that bookend each other. In one, Monty spits out a diatribe into the mirror, cursing every ethnic group in the city, his father, his friends, and finally himself, as we see each person, each group, in rapid succession. In the end, Brian Cox has another, and his vivid portrait of a life that could have been is the perfect counterpoint, a pacifier to Monty's anger.
The film doesn't have a traditional narrative structure. There isn't a final thematic twist. Monty isn't striving for anything; he is simply waiting for his time to be up. The hours pass slowly, and it's not until we take the time to notice them that we realize how many are wasted or taken for granted.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Spike Lee and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto utilize just about every visual trick in the book, from filters, to overexposed film, to intentional grain, and though the resultant transfer might not fit with the standard notion of "reference quality," 25th Hour looks great on DVD.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic reproduces all of the cinematic trickery quite well. Colors range from washed out to oversaturated, always in keeping with the intentionally stylish photography. Blacks are strong throughout, and though shadow detail is generally good, there is some break-up in the very dark, high contrast opening scene. There is some grain present in some scenes, but only when called for—it is clearly intentional and not a fault of the transfer. I noticed some minor instances of aliasing on hard surfaces, but nothing out of the ordinary. Edge enhancement is kept to a minimum, with halos only slightly visible in a few scenes.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This mix proves that even dialogue-based dramas can make good use of all six channels. Dialogue is anchored in the center and is always crystal clear. The wide front soundstage presents the music and sound effects with pronounced directionality and some impressive panning effects. The surrounds are very active throughout, enhancing the score, and creating an immersive atmosphere, particularly in the club scene. Dialogue is even mixed into the surrounds in one memorable scene, as Monty rants to the camera and his voice rotates around the room.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
6 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Spike Lee; screenwriter David Benioff
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Spike Lee contributes another of his highly informative commentary tracks. He talks a lot about the technical aspects of production, but he doesn't shy away from discussions of theme and character. There are some dead spots here and there, and his halting, rather measured style of speaking takes a little getting used to, but it's an interesting listen. Screenwriter/author David Benioff also gets his own track, and he spends most of his time discussing the evolution of the story from novel to screenplay. He is a much more engaging speaker than Lee, and his track is also worthwhile.
A collection of six deleted scenes (with a total running time of just over 10 minutes) is presented in rather rough, unfinished widescreen. A few stand alone as interesting character vignettes, but all would likely have slowed down the already lengthy feature. As always, it is nice that we get to see them here.
My favorite feature is the 22-minute The Evolution of an American Filmmaker featurette that plays like a "greatest hits" of Spike Lee's career. The piece tracks the development of the director's style through film clips and interviews with his cast of regulars, including Ozzie Davis, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry, and directors Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet. It's a bit on the surface with so much ground to cover in so little time, but it's still quite interesting.
Finally, rounding out the disc is the five-minute Ground Zero: A Tribute. The name is a little misleading—this is simply several minutes of rather grainy footage of the cleanup crews driving around the Ground Zero site—but the images are striking, and Terrance Blanchard's haunting score is the perfect accompaniment.
Extras Grade: B+
Final Comments25th Hour is Spike Lee's best film in nearly a decade, a mesmerizing countdown of a man's final hours. It's also the first film from a mainstream American director to deal openly with the 9/11 tragedy. This New York is still harsh, cruel, at times indifferent, broken but mending, and no less difficult to leave. The DVD is a winner, with a nice batch of intelligent supplemental materials and excellent audio and video transfers.
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