25th Hour
starring Edward Norton, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Anna Paquin
4 stars

review by Stephen Notley

Tomorrow Ed Norton is going to prison for 7 years. Today is 25th Hour.

Spike Lee makes a hell of a movie out of that today, filling it with life and hurt and meaning, digging deep into the connections and cross connections and tensions in a tight web of characters, filling it with all the anger and frustration and regret of knowing that you've fucked yourself and your life is ruined. And to tell us this story, God bless him, Lee takes us to a slick, sweaty supercool New York night club and makes us ache for sex.

Ed Norton is at the centre of it all, holding it in, trying to get a grip on what's happening, letting out bits to some people, withholding them from others. His performance is a slow build, he's in control, he's got his head around it, he's not letting it get to him. And then it gets to him.

Norton anchors the movie, but it's Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Norton's buddies who sing out in this film, who grab you. Who's Barry Pepper? He's that weird rat-faced guy who's been slinking around under the radar, popping up as the needle-sharp sniper in Saving Private Ryan or the rebellious man-animal up against John Travolta in Battlefield Earth. Here he's an old high-school chum of Norton's, now a lean, rapacious, gets-fucked $100 million-trader on Wall Street, out to give Norton a good time on his last night on earth. He's sharp and mean and smart, and when he slides the blades into Phillip Seymour Hoffman, they hurt.

Meanwhile, Phil Hoffman is another one of Norton's buddies. Hoffman's been branching out from his core role as an asshole or loser, but here he's back in form as a doughy school teacher along for the ride. He's like a raw nerve here, painful, painful to watch as the slob, the friend for old times' sake, clueless, weak to the men around him, hopeless with the women. He barely even notices Norton all evening, because he, like us, is drooling with helpless lust after yummilicious Anna Paquin, one of his students.

Oh yeah. Anna Paquin. Those who recall with fondness her impish sashay in X-Men will be reduced to slobbering Philip Seymour Hoffmans by her sweet temptations in 25th Hour. Spike Lee has never been shy about sex appeal, and here he drenches his women in glistening blue or the E-inspired rush of warm amber light. And while Paquin is delectable as the thing, the temptation, the big mistake not to make, Rosario Dawson is hot and sweet and so to be missed and lost when Norton goes away.

The movie digs in, gets at things between men, things between men and women. And through and behind it all float the ghosts of 9-11. We see twin searchlights beaming empty endless towers into the night, leveled and empty blocks of Ground Zero, flags everywhere. It's there, it happened, but it's not alive in the world of the characters. They don't talk about it, don't link it to Norton's personal apocalypse. There's no orderly dramatic connection between the two tragedies, and yet somehow the ideas resonate, saying goodbye to an old world, facing something like death except you keep on living. And when Lee dares to end the movie with a beautiful dream, you believe it.