Monty Brogan (Norton) is about to be sent to prison for drug dealing. He spends his final day of freedom with his girlfriend, his father and his two best friends, all the while determining who really sold him out.
How far can you take a metaphor before it sinks beneath the weight of its own self-importance? Spike Lee's latest is about a drug dealer cleaning up his act, so it's really about post-Giuliani New York and the effects of the ex-mayor's hard line attitude to crime. It's also about a drug dealer determined to ruin his pretty boy looks before he goes to prison, so it's really about the heterosexual male's fear of sodomy.
Then again, it's also about a drug dealer who finally accepts that the punishment being meted out to him is solely his responsibility, caused by his own past indiscretions, so it's really about the current political state of America. Under this reading, Monty is the USA, who can no longer blame his Latin American (i.e. Third World scapegoat) girlfriend for his woes, but must let his former Soviet (i.e. failing superpower) cohorts fight it out amongst themselves. Meanwhile he takes advice from his friends, a teacher (cultural heritage), a Wall Street broker (financial might) and his ex-fireman father (the hands that built America). Haven't quite worked out where the dog fits in yet.
Actually, the above interpretation isn't that ridiculous. There's a reason why Lee sets a key scene in an apartment overlooking Ground Zero, now a gaping wound in the street map and psyche of New York. David Benioff wrote his novel before 9/11, but his screenplay resonates with the sense of a city and its inhabitants shaken to their core.
Like Monty, everyone has to look deep within himself, weigh up his sins and, if necessary, pay his dues before redemption can be earned. All of which makes 25th Hour one of Lee's more thoughtful and timely works, one that tones down anger in favour of wider contemplation and a certain ambiguity when the final credits roll. Of course, the film could really just be about the surface story. And it wouldn't be any less enjoyable for that.
Lee's post-9/11 elegy to his home city has some obvious flaws - the teacher/pupil flirting sub-plot, the over-extended final reel fantasy life - but <b>25th Hour</b> proves that big ideas and an indie sensibility can still flourish inside the studio syste