What would you do on your last day of freedom?
This is the question Monty Brogan (played by Edward Norton) faces in The 25th Hour. After being narced out to the DEA, Monty gets busted with a kilo and is handed a seven year sentence. The movie begins the day before Monty is set to turn himself in to prison. Apparently, drug dealers are on the “low flight risk” list these days, and are allowed to wander the streets of New York between their sentencing and the start of their prison term.
Monty’s plans for his last day of freedom including making peace with his girlfriend, reconciling with his father, and attending a going away party with his two best friends (which is being thrown by the Russian drug cartel, Monty’s source of cocaine). Of course, all three of these tasks will become complicated.
First, Monty needs closure his girlfriend, Naturelle (played by Rosario Dawson). While Monty truly loves Naturelle and will miss her, she also happens to be one of a very small group who knew exactly where Monty hid his drugs — something the DEA agents knew as well. The conflict between love and hate, trust and mistrust is portrayed excellently. You can feel the on screen tension long before it is explained in the plot.
Second, Monty must set up a meeting with his father, a retired New York City firefighter and current Irish bar owner. Monty’s father James Brogan (Brian Cox) has mixed emotions about his son going to prison. In one scene, he feels guilty about not raising his son right. In another, he scolds Monty, telling him, “you could have done anything with your life, and you did this.” More hurt and guilt emerges when James discovers Monty began peddling dope to help his father pay off loans to the syndicate.
Third, Monty’s big night involves attending a going away party at a local club, owned and run by the Russian drug cartel. It is here where he meets up with his two life long buddies, Jakob Elinsky (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a rich Jewish kid turned high school English teacher, and Francis Xavier Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), a high-rolling stock broker. Naturelle is there along for the ride as well. The Russian mafia would also like to have a word with Monty, and find out exactly what the cops found out during his interrogation. Moving along a subplot, one of Jakob’s students, the sexy and tempting Ms. Mary D’Annunzio (Anna Paquin) ends up at the club with the group as well.
25th Hour’s 134 minutes are mostly made up of dialogue, without the use of action. That’s not to say the movie isn’t gripping or compelling, but there are no car chases, no explosions, no gun fights here. The drama here is in the drama. The acting is top notch. At the top of that pyramid is Edward Norton. It is important that, while we like him for the movie’s sake, we don’t like him too much. In the film’s opening scene, Monty stops on the way to a drug deal to befriend a wounded and left for dead dog. It’s moments like these where we are shown a gentler side of Monty, even though we are reminded throughout the movie that he built his empire “on the misfortunes of others.”
The supporting cast is excellent. Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly cast as the repressed school teacher in love with one of his students. While it’s an interesting side story line, his crush on his seventeen year old student played by Anna Paquin (Rogue!) has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot, could have been cut completely, and easily brought this movie back under the 2 hour mark. Again, the acting is phenominal, the whole love interest angle between the two of them seems, in retrospect, just something to keep his character in the movie. Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan) perfectly portrays the high rolling stock trader. He’s that arrogant, type A guy that you still hang around with because you always have.
A few times throughout the movie, writer David Benioff takes the viewers on some weird tangents. At least three times that I can remember, characters break out of the reality of the movie and launch into long monologues, that seem to be saying, “this is what I, David Benioff, have to say about this subject.” It almost seemed like Benioff had some previously written essays lying around on his desk, and just crammed them into the story wherever he could. Two of them, like Monty’s “fuck you” speech presented to himself in a bathroom mirror, and James’ “we don’t have to take you to the prison” daydream at least are somewhat tied to the plot, although they do stretch on for an uncomfortable length of time. Francis’ exposition on New Yorkers, however, felt extremely forced. It seemed like Benioff wrote some lengthy patriotic exposition (I saw “Wanted: Dead or Alive” Bin Laden posters at least three times in the movie) and jammed it into a scene where it didn’t fit at all. I get the feeling he wrote some of the dialogue on September 11th, 2001 (World Trade Center cleanup and the towers of light are featured predominantly throughout the film). The problem is, I saw the movie on January 11th, 2003. While not decades later, it distracts and detracts from the otherwise timeless basic plot.
When walking out of the theater, I had a “disjointed” feeling. I felt like, things weren’t complete. Somehow, two hours and fifteen minutes just doesn’t seem like enough time to “wrap everything up.” And I guess that carries across the theme of the film, that 24 hours isn’t really enough time to “wrap everything up” either. This film is great for viewing with friends — the conversations began the minute we got into the car.
What would you do with your last 24 hours of freedom?