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25th Hour Print E-mail
Tuesday, 20 May 2003

25th Hour

Touchstone Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, Anna Paquin
release year: 2002
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

“25th Hour” is a character study drama set in the crime genre. David Benioff’s screenplay, based on his novel, has juicy roles for the actors and strong character arcs, and director Spike Lee immerses us in the authentic New York environments. The movie is consistently interesting, but it suffers from its own weight. The filmmakers are so keenly aware that they’re saying something about the human condition that “25th Hour” starts to feel portentous. Its structure is solid but lacks either a feel of inevitability or any true surprise – we can appreciate the craftsmanship while feeling a bit removed from it.

The film opens with the sounds of a dog being beaten. Enter Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a confident N.Y. drug dealer who pulls over and, against the arguments of his hulking co-dealer Kostya (Tony Siragusa), rescues the poor, growling animal from where it’s been dumped. Flash-forward a few years. Monty sits on a bench, dog Doyle at his feet, contemplating his fate. We learn that Monty has been busted and is on his last 24 hours of freedom before facing seven years in prison. Monty’s ex-fireman/bar owner father (Brian Cox) tries to be supportive while wrestling with his own devastation. Childhood best friends Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an unhappy English teacher suffering from a guilty crush on a 17-year-old student (Anna Paquin), and Frank (Barry Pepper), a cocky stocks trader, spar with one another while planning to give Monty a good last night on the town. Monty’s live-in girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) tries to connect with Monty, despite his imposed self-distance. And Monty’s gangster erstwhile suppliers want a word with him …

Benioff’s screenplay has the kind of rich, stagey character interactions that are common to David Mamet scripts, with friends who know how to lacerate one another in ways that enemies wouldn’t dream of doing. The dilemmas are all well-illustrated, though there’s something weirdly by the numbers about many of Monty’s transitions. He is given an intriguing third-act choice that has ramifications for others in his life, but it is so cinematically emphasized – in a section of Chapter 16, all human sounds drain from the track, leaving only Central Park birdsong and brush rustles as the action continues – that we feel as though the filmmakers fear we might not be able to experience the emotion of the scene if left to our own devices.

There is also a curious and continual reference to the 9/11 tragedy and the loss of the World Trade Center towers, with Frank ensconced in an apartment that directly overlooks Ground Zero. One can thoroughly sympathize with director Lee’s wish to acknowledge the loss and his sentiments that other movies should using CGI to pretend the towers were never there at all and still be puzzled by the movie’s emphasis on this particular outrage. There doesn’t seem to be any metaphorical connection between Monty’s predicament and the bombings, and in fact, on reflection, it’s hard to see how any of the characters’ situations would be any different if 9/11 hadn’t happened, so that eventually the references wind up having the opposite effect of the one apparently intended – we can’t help but feel that, apart from adding a bit of existential depression to everybody’s already blue moods, the horrendous loss of life is irrelevant to the story we’re being told. Monty also has a xenophobic rant about most of the population of New York into a mirror that efficiently underscores his self-loathing, but also uses vitriol in what a lot of people will see as a dubious (not to mention really unpleasant) bid for verisimilitude.

Even so, there’s much to admire in the way Norton does a fine job as the worried, monumentally conflicted Monty. Hoffman is a standout as a “nice guy” who’s a guilt-ridden wreck but genuinely wants to do the right thing, and Pepper, Dawson, Cox, Paquin and Siragula are all aces as well.

The widescreen presentation on the disc is very handsome, with cinematographer Roberto Prieto utilizing subdued hues for the present and glowing, skip-bleached-type treatments for flashbacks and flights of theory. Sound is good but unspectacular, with occasional excellent discrete effects, like individual lines in Monty’s angry diatribe issuing from different speakers, mains and rears. Chapter 11 has a vivid burst of music as characters enter a nightclub, and Chapter 13 places us somewhere specific in relation to the deejay booth, with record-scratch issuing from the rears while dialogue and synth music come from center and mains. The soundtrack has a good selection of cuts, including Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fuse” over the end titles.

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track by director Lee, who praises his collaborators but tends to fall silent for long stretches, and a livelier, separate commentary by writer Benioff, who reveals that the novel was originally optioned by Tobey Maguire, who wanted to play Monty himself until “Spider-Man” intervened. There are six good deleted scenes, a documentary that combines making-of material on “25th Hour” with a retrospective on Lee’s career – with comments from Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Sydney Lumet and Ossie Davis, among others – and a tribute to the fallen Towers, consisting primarily of Terence Blanchard’s spare, mournful score playing over footage of workers in the mostly cleared-out crater.

“25th Hour” is intelligent and involving to a point, but it’s a little too aware of its own potential profundity for it to hit is as hard as it could if it wasn’t trying so hard to mean so much.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, THX-Certified; French Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Spike Lee; Audio Commentary by Writer David Benioff; “The Evolution of an American Filmmaker” Featurette; Six Deleted Scenes; Ground Zero Tribute; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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