Despite having read and liked the book when it came out, I never had much desire to see The 25th Hour. It made so many best lists, however, that I relented. I think my trepidation may have been based on Spike Lee, as he’s a director I’m not sure I fully get.
This is by far my favorite of the Spike Lee movies I’ve seen (Clockers, He Got Game, and Inside Man). Edward Norton’s “fuck you” direct-to-the-camera monologue (a Spike Lee signature, or so I’m led to believe) is so specific in its hate of New York that it’s clear it’s actually a love note. And juxtaposing the story of a man on his last day of freedom with the aftermath of 9/11 lends a fin de siecle depth to the film that the book, good as it is, lacks. Several stark images, such as the Tribute in Light memorial over the opening credits and workers cleaning up at ground zero, feel almost operatic thanks to Terence Blanchard’s powerful score. And there’s a softness to the ending that juxtaposes nicely with the cynicism and despair that pervades the rest of the film.
But Spike Lee still remains an enigma to me as a director, as the film has other affectations: Lee employs a . . . unique editing style that momentarily “resets” the characters when he cuts on action. For example, two characters embrace and slap each other’s backs in a wide shot, then he cuts to a medium and, instead of being immediately post-backslap, the coverage starts a split second before the backslap. The only thing I’ve seen similar to it is in Hong Kong action films (check out around 5:30 in Tony Zhou’s video essay on Jackie Chan for some examples). It’s equal parts striking and bizarre. Even my wife – no film nerd – asked me, “Who directed this?” (I was so proud. And she immediately regretted it, as she was then subjected to the expanded version of this paragraph.)
The 25th Hour deserves its place on the best lists, but its most unexpected accomplishment is making me want to see more Spike Lee movies.