Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Top 82 Things I Love about 25th Hour (that no one talks about)

Spike Lee’s 25th hour is one of the best, most important films made so far this century. It’s a movie I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, but this post a comprehensive dive into the things I love most about the movie. As Lee’s BlackKklansman currently makes waves in theaters, here’s a look into one of Spike Lee’s masterpieces.

This film still holds the award for “Best Movie with Horrifying Opening Sound.”

But then BOOM, the sound of the 1970 Dodge Super Bee explodes onto the film. Love that jolt.

Also love that the car isn’t being driven on a perfectly flat road. The road has puddles, awkward bumps. It’s a New York City road.

The cinematography of this film is astounding, and I’m going to talk about it a lot. Here’s a good example: look how the grain and the desaturatured color of this scene help separate it from every other scene in the movie. It’s the furthest flashback, and certainly one where Monty (Edward Norton) still has his “innocence.” It’s just so raw looking. Love what DP Rodrigo Prieto did in this film.

The size of Kostya’s (Tony Siragusa) flask.

I LOVE the way Norton carries Monty’s bravado, especially in the flashback scenes. Equal parts charming, commanding, and funny. He is so New York.

Spike Lee and his longtime editor, Barry Alexander Brown, are huge fans of quickly showing the same thing multiple times, as it’s happening. They usually save these quick double cuts for when two characters embrace, but I love the way it’s utilized here, as we see Monty jump four different times when Doyle barks at him. It’s a great way to establish that this isn’t going to be any sort of conventional movie.

Monty kicking his trunk car shut.

I think context is one of the most important aspects of film discussion. A film’s artistic merits should stand on their own, but remembering where a film came from, and when and how it was made are hugely important. After 9/11, no film or TV show wanted to acknowledge the harsh realities of 9/11. Everyone was scrubbing the event out of their content. There are dozens of examples of this. A shot of the World Trade Centers was taken out of the Spider-Man trailer, a shot of the Towers getting struck by meteors was edited out of television broadcasts of Armageddon (which was released in 1998), the theatrical release of Training Day (which takes place in L.A., and has nothing to do with 9/11) was delayed a few weeks simply because the content of the film was deemed too intense, and on and on. David Benioff’s source novel, “The 25th Hour,” was written before the attacks, so there is no mention of 9/11 in his text. But in making his film, Spike Lee saw an opportunity to acknowledge that 9/11 happened, and our world was never going to be the same. Spike Lee was the first filmmaker to address 9/11, and from the film’s opening credits, it’s as if Spike Lee was telling us, “I’m not avoiding this. No, fuck that. I’m going in.” I believe Lee’s audacity in this regard will be one of the highlights of his legacy.

And to see this movie in the theater, holy shit, that was an experience. The first few shots of the Tribute in Light installation are purposefully abstract, but when this shot appeared, you could hear a fucking pin drop in the theater. Everyone was stunned into silence. I remember sitting back in my seat and thinking, “Wow, we are all in for something here.”

A final note about the credits: Terence Blanchard’s music is another staple of Spike Lee’s films, and I’m hard pressed to think of a scene in which Blanchard’s music resonated more than it does here. Such power.

Love how Monty is framed in this shot. Already trapped by bars.

Nice bit of location foreshadowing here.

The way this school administrator (Michole Briana White) approaches Monty. Her body language and tone of voice is perfect. Like, “Uhh, dude, why the hell do you have a dog in my school?”

The extra few beats Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) takes after Mary (Anna Paquin) finishes reading. That man is in trouble.

Acting is all about choices. What are you doing and how are you doing it. Norton’s choices are always on point, and I love how Monty is kind of out of breath in this scene. It’s like he’s nervous, anxious and afraid, all at the same time.

Ol’ Monty is about to hit the hooscow for seven years, but this is what’s on his mind right now.

Jacob’s reaction to meeting up at midnight. His face reads, “Ohh, okay, midnight. I’m a teacher, man. I haven’t gone out at midnight in like 15 years. Great.”

The fact that Jacob doesn’t care in the slightest about Mary’s grade. He just wants to talk about her tattoo. I love his delivery of this line.

This is one of the all-time great character introductions. Francis Xavier Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), red-eyed and focused, ready to kill the game. God, I love this scene.

LOVE Al Palagonia. A former stockbroker whose lightning-fast vernacular fits perfectly in Lee’s films. Also adore him as the slick sports agent, Dom Pagnotti, in He Got Game.

These glass reflections were Prieto’s idea, and they work great here. I love when a cinematographer includes an inorganic element into a scene, but it still plays perfectly. I honestly can’t wait to steal this idea for something I shoot in the future.

This exchange between Frank and Sal (Palagonia) is absolutely priceless.

This is one of my favorite lines, from anything, ever.

From book-to-screen, 25th Hour is one of my favorite film adaptations. But, like all movie adaptations, things are going to be left out from the text. One of my favorite such things from Benioff’s novel is the internal rage Frank cannot let go of following his brief exchange with Marcuse (Aaron Stanford) here. Frank is absolutely pissed that Marcuse talks down to him, and is very tempted to jump over the table and beat Marcuse’s ass. In the novel, it speaks so well to Frank’s machismo.

Rosario Dawson never got the credit she deserved for her work as Naturelle Riviera. Naturelle adores Monty, and is so consumed by sadness that he’s going away. The way Dawson plays that sadness is so believable.

Love how Monty turns to Naturelle as Agent Flood (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) begins talking about the sofa. He suspects her already.

And Naturelle’s look here is heartbreaking. She knows where this is going.

Many people think Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s “Shiiiiiiiiit” catchphrase started on The Wire, but it actually started here. And another interesting bit of trivia, that “Shiiiiiiiiit” is something Whitlock’s uncle always used to say, so the actor found a way to incorporate it into his character here.

Gotta give up for the Goose. Lee saw NFL defensive tackle, Tony Siragusa (aka Goose) on Hard Knocks, and thought he could play Kostya. And damn if he wasn’t right. Siragusa had no acting experience before 25th Hour, but he crushes this part.

Great line.

This is how the game traps you. It pays well, and it pays up front. And if you spread that wealth around to the people who love you, they don’t say a thing. I love how this line of dialogue says so much about Monty’s relationship with his dad (Brian Cox).

The only thing I can think to add to the infamous “Fuck You” scene is my own personal story. Again, seeing this film in the theater in December 2002 was quite the experience. And when Monty went all in on Osama bin Laden, everyone in the theater was absolutely shaken. I looked around and saw so many people’s jaws literally hanging open. I just leaned back in my seat and said, “Oh… wow” out loud. Again, no one had addressed 9/11 in a mainstream fictional film yet. This movie changed things.

Love that Monty was named after Montgomery Clift, specifically because of my favorite Clift film.

The sadness Monty’s dad has as he takes a pull from Monty’s beer. We learn later that his dad has been sober for two years, which makes this act that much more devastating.

The slight extra beat Frank and Jacob take after they embrace. There’s a hint of awkward silence in that moment, as if they’re saying, “Fuck, tonight is gonna be some night.”

The fact that Frank is brushing his teeth, and has his shirt unbuttoned, when Jacob arrives.

Jacob noticing the skin mags on Frank’s table.

The camera glides in and moves up, the music swells, and all is revealed. And then Jacob says this, because, really, what else is there to say?

One of the reasons this scene is so effective (not withholding the music and the 5 minute 36 second single take) is the chemistry between Pepper and Hoffman. It starts with their wardrobes (look how polar opposite they’re dressed) extends to their attitudes (Frank is pessimistic and angry, Jacob is hopeful and sad), and is confirmed by the actors’ acting style. I don’t believe these two men are friends. Not anymore. I think they grew up together, and the only reason they remain in each other’s lives is because of Monty. You can meet up with some childhood friends, and it’s as if no time is passed. With others, it’s just awkward. You’ve grown into different people, and you have nothing left in common. That all carries through here. This is an astounding scene, one of the finest Spike Lee has ever captured, and that is thanks largely to the strength of Pepper and Hoffman’s respective talents.

I’ve always loved how overexposed the lighting is in this scene. It’s so bright, but so cold.

Monty’s relaxed demeanor in this scene. Love the way he has his arm tucked behind the chair. He’s feigning calmness, for now.

The fact that Frank is talking himself up here with such profound arrogance, while belching out loud and eating rice with his hands. Pepper is glorious in this scene.

The couple at the next table staring disapprovingly at Frank’s burping.

If you look and listen closely, you can see that the businessman Monty talks with in the park is actually Simon (Paul Diomede) from one of the opening scenes. This so subtly conveys what junk can do to a person.

The fact that Naturelle’s friend (Vanessa Ferlito) knows Monty and doesn’t want to be anywhere near him.

Monty questioning Naturelle’s name.

Naturelle rubbing her lipstick off Jacob’s face.

Also, the way Naturelle takes a sip of Jacob’s beer, without asking. There’s an ease to Naturelle in this scene that I’ve always liked, even if I think she’s just playing pretend for Monty’s friends.

Frank showing off in front of/flirting with Naturelle. This scene helps make clear that Monty’s suspicions of Frank are valid.

Always loved this line. Nice throwback to the Humphrey Bogart film, Dead End.

The bouncer (Patrice O’Neal) unable to contain his nervous laughter as he talks to Monty about his sentence.

Love these priceless lines.

Monty strutting into the bar. How much confidence can he have left?

This is my favorite toast of any toast.

The emphasis Frank puts on his drink order. This is a guy who never stops playing.

I love how the characters in this movie speak. There’s a slickness to the dialogue that pops. There’s something about “wrap yourself in a twist” that I’ve always enjoyed.

I don’t know who Frank is trying to fool here: himself, or Monty. Such conviction from Pepper.

The freeze frames during the second dance scene.

I love how equally puzzled/horrified they both look after they kiss. Innocence lost. Oh my.

Definitely one of the best uses of Spike Lee’s double dolly shot, both cinematically and emotionally.

Another great line. It’s such a thrill to watch Frank unravel in this scene. 25th Hour got absolutely screwed for awards, but had it garnered the attention it deserved, surely Barry Pepper would’ve been recognized.

And little moments like this are what made Philip Seymour Hoffman one of the all-time great actors. After Frank orders Jacob a drink and demands that he drink it, Jacob takes his glasses off and stares at Frank defiantly. Then he pushes the drink aside and, for a split second, wears this expression, which is equal parts frustration and sadness. That’s acting.

It’s interesting to see Monty fighting for his life as Nikolai (Levani) points a gun at him. Despite all he’s said about harming himself, and all the pain he has ahead of him, Monty wants to live.

Jacob jumping off this ledge so ungracefully.

Handheld, close-up, staring directly into the camera. What a jarring shot.

Frank’s voice cracking during this line.

Monty does everything to bait Frank into beating him. He demands Frank cash in on his promise, insults Frank, pushes him, accuses Frank of going after Naturelle, and so on. But I love that what pushes Frank over the edge is Monty hitting Jacob. Seems Frank still does have some love for Jacob, after all.

Frank out of focus in this shot.

The sound design after the beating. Only the gentle birds sing.

And the way they all say goodbye, with Monty consoling both of them. Just heartbreaking.

Oh god, his final look at the apartment. All is lost.

The only thing Naturelle can muster up the strength to say is a saddened moan. Such a believable goodbye.

Dad telling Monty the route they’ll take to prison. That’s such a dad thing to do.

Monty’s face as he looks at his dad, seriously considering his old man’s offer to help him flee.

I love this bit from Spike Lee, on his directory’s commentary track for the film: “Folks, I don’t get in helicopters. So Rodrigo had to go alone. And he told me it was good, so I said okay. I believed him, because I’m not gettin’ in the motherfuckin’ helicopter.”

Dad’s face after he takes his first drink of whiskey in two years.

The bartender sliding this woman a bottle of beer.

This coworker calling Monty his new name.

The snare drums gently pounding during these lines about being a New Yorker.

Naturelle’s hands shaking as she embraces Monty.
25th Hour is a perfect and important film. And while I don’t usually pine for sequels, I always thought there was a golden opportunity to make one here, and release it in 2009, seven actual years after the first film came out. Seven years was Monty’s prison sentence, and I thought it’d be great to see where all the major players were when Monty was released (assuming, of course, that he survived his prison term). But, like Monty himself, I suppose that was just my imagination. It all came so close to never happening.


Listen to my 25th Hour Commentary podcast!


  1. I agree with you that it's one of the most important films of the 21st Century so far as it's grown on me over the years. Spike raised the bar on himself with that film and I think it took a long time reach that bar as he finally did with BlacKkKlansman.

    That show of Hoffman and Pepper looking at that site is just chilling as I can't believe how long that shot is. I love it when filmmakers go for something like that and just show it and let the camera linger. No quick cuts, no change in the camera angles. Just keep it as it is.

    I also love the way you described Prieto's photography as I'm someone who loves grainy photography as I feel it has an air of realism and isn't afraid to make the film look a little dirty or grimy.

    1. Hell yeah man, love this comment. One thing I love so much about 25th Hour is that Lee displays a great deal of restraint at times, which isn't a way I would typically describe his work. But just letting those shots linger is the best choice possible. And Prieto's work in this film cannot be overlooked. His aesthetic fits so well with Lee's style.

  2. Love this film and this post. That dolly shot of Hoffman walking away is one of my favorite shots of all time. Like you said, it's so emotional.

    1. Thanks so much for reading! Oh man, the way he just stares into the camera as if to say, "Holy shit, what the hell did I just do?" It's so perfect. Miss that guy.

  3. Such a great article and I love this movie as well. I originally watched it as there is a reference to my favorite character, Kitty Pryde, the X-Man who can walk through walls. A silly reason to watch a film but she rarely gets referenced in anything ever and I was just blown away by the film.
    I'm a huge Nortan and Rosario fan so I would have watched it eventually but gosh, this film just blows me away all of the time.
    Now I want that sequel and it'll be heartbreaking once we learned that Jacob has passed, or maybe he moved to a new district and can't be there during that day's events.

    1. So happy you like this film! I don't think a sequel would work now, mostly because Hoffman is gone. But in 2009, I really thought there was a golden opportunity to release one. Same format (the first 24 hours after Monty is released), and simply touching base with everyone from the first film. But oh well - one can dream!

  4. So true that no one involved in this film got the respect they deserve. It's an amazing film I need to revisit soon. And Rosario Dawson never gets the credit she deserves. I find her to be a great actress.

    1. Same here! I think she is incredible in this movie, and I've loved so many of her other performances, particularly in Descent. That's a rough flick to get through though.

  5. Ah, you left out one of my favorite moments from the end. Monty in the passenger seat, looking out the window, and seeing a kid on a bus. I know the scene was also from the book, but there's something so sweet and innocent about it. The way the kid writes "MOT" in the condensation of the window on the bus, with Monty writing his own name in response.There's a purity to the moment, this friendly little connection between these two. The way Monty sadly puts his hand toward the glass as the kid waves goodbye. It's as if he wants to join him, maybe listen to the kid tell him about his day, if only so he could get one last bit of innocence before going to prison.

    1. I LOVE that moment, so very much. Because of the "No One Talks About" theme of these posts, I typically leave out popular scenes like that one, only as a way to highlight things I don't feel are discussed enough in a particular movie (i.e., I hardly touch on the exorcism scenes in my post for The Exorcist). However, while that scene has been mentioned a lot, it's no less impactful.

  6. OMG I was literally cheering as I was reading this text. 25th Hour is one of my absolute favorites, and since I watched it for the first time six years ago, I suffered because I had no one to discuss it with, as most of my friends either haven't seen the movie or didn't like it as much as I do. Also, it seems like this movie is largely underappreciated/forgotten among critics too. I am delighted to find a fellow passionate fan of this truly great film. I have read and enjoyed all your articles on 25th hour, but this one is my favorite, as it points out all the little details that made me fall in love with this film and rewatch it again and again, each time noticing something new

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! I'm so happy you're a fan of the film, and that you've enjoyed reading my articles on it. I really wish more people talked about this movie. It is still so important for so many reasons. Love finding other fans of it!

  7. Nice eye for all these goodies. I think the Frank scenes with reflections were a duality and two-faced-ness reveal/portrayal for Frank and his boss and company.
    Like his concerns for his buddy moments before going up to talking with him in the blue room were when he asked for Macallan18 and went to bang the waitress Cindy (regular!) before he was 'back in a flash' as he put it.

    1. Completely agree. That's one thing the book digs into a little better than the movie - Frank's psyche. And it's great that Pepper is able to convey that duality, often without words, in the movie.

  8. Hi, I am a devoted fan of the movie and really enjoyed reading your articles on it.

    First, I wanted to mention a couple of thoughts I have on the movie:

    - One thing I noticed only on my 6th or 7th viewing was that when Frank confronts Naturelle at the bar in the club, he uses the phrase "Right or wrong?". Which is exactly the phrase Frank's boss uses in the beginning of the movie. I think this is a nice subtle way of showing how Frank's stressfull/toxic workplace affects him personally, particularly his dark side.

    - I would not necessarily call Frank two-faced, as it was mentioned in the comment above. I think that he 100% believes in what he is saying both when he is talking to Jacob in the apartment (basically saying that Monty's now gone from their lives) and when he is talking to Monty in the blue room (saying that they will open a bar together in 7 years). This just shows that Frank, as any human being, has conflicting but equally strong feelings within him.

    - I find it interesting that here Spike Lee used his signature double dolly shot 3(!) times all within the same club sequence.

    - Also, I always felt that Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese are somewhat similar not just in terms of topics (New York City, crime etc.), but more importantly in terms of cinematic approach. In particular, both are not afraid to use strong stylistic instruments, "revealing" to the viewer that the story is told through the lense of a director. In light of this, I find it interesting that Rodrigo Prieto became Scorsese's go-to DP in later years.

    - Lastly, just a small moment I love. When Jacob's in the teacher's lounge, the movie cuts from an extreme close up to wider and wider shots in perfect synch with the soundtrack chords. Just looks freaking cool. (Noticed the same thing in Spike Lee's "Oldboy" where Josh Brolin is in an elevator at the end)

    Seeing that you are a big admirer of this movie, I would also like to ask a couple of questions:

    - I have noticed that often in the movie the movement within the shot seems a bit jittery or ragged. I don't even know how to describe it, but it feels peculiar and visually different from most films. I don't know how this effect was achieved. My wild guess is that the frame rate was slightly reduced from normal (you can see this in more extreme levels in some scenes in some Danny Boyle movies like "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Trance"). Have you also noticed this? If yes, do you know how this effect was achieved, and what do you think the artistic reasoning for it was?
    - I know you have mentioned the moments of showing the same thing multiple times, and it being mostly used for showing characters embrace, but I wanted to focus on this aspect of the film more. For me, it felt like this technique was used arbitrarily, almost randomly. I remember the embrace between Monty and Patrice O'Neal's character shown twice, but surely that embrace isn't really all that important to Monty and the movie to be highlighted in a way the embrace between Monty and (say) Jacob wasn't. Can you please elaborate on your thoughts about this editing technique and why it was used in particular cases?
    - I have seen some of the deleted scenes from this movie available on youtube, as I'm sure you also have. What are your thoughts on them? Personally, I think that though some of them were interesting (especially the "Sway" sequence, which reminded me of the drunk Harvey Keitel scene from Scorsese's "Mean Streets"), none felt like they needed to be in the final movie.
    - As a person from Central Asia, I don't feel that I fully grasp the effect that 9/11 has had on US society. I know that you have written about the importance of Spike Lee being one of the pioneers of acknowledging this tragic event in cinema. But can you please elaborate on the importance of using the 9/11 topic in this movie and particularly the connection between 9/11 and Monty's story?

    1. Wow this comment is amazing. Thank you so much for leaving it! One question: Are you working on a paper about the movie? I get questions like these from students sometimes, and I want to make sure I respond fully and accurately before your deadline!

    2. Hey, thanks for answering so fast! No, I'm not working on a paper or anything like that. I just love "25th Hour" so much, so I wanted to share my thoughts with a fellow fan. So don't feel like you need to respond to all/any of my questions in any serious way, just know that your articles have brought much joy to me

    3. Sorry it took me a while to write back! I had to dig up my 25th Hour Blu-Ray for Spike Lee’s commentary, so I could answer one of your questions. I LOVE how much you love this movie; your passion for it really comes through.

      I love all of the points you made, particularly how you caught the double use of “Right or wrong.”

      Now for these amazing questions:
      1. Yep, the cinematographer is essentially increasing the frames per second to achieve the jittery look. I think the intention is to throw us off a bit, make us unsettled and unnerved. As the movie progresses, I noticed that he stopped using that sped up frame rate as much, and instead saved it for key moments, like when Frank beats up Monty. Interesting choice. I think it works well.

      2. This is what I had to go back to the commentary for! Here’s what Spike said about those cuts: “We do a lot of double-cutting early in the film. Monty slams the trunk on the dog twice, and also, when people hug, we cut it two or three times just to emphasize the moment. That’s something my ace editor, Barry Alexander Brown, worked on. Over the years, Barry’s nickname became Cut Creator.”
      I think they wanted to try it and see if it fit, and I actually think it does. Again, I also noticed this lessened up as the movie went on.

      3. Yep, totally agree. All unneeded, but there is some fun in that “Sway” one. It just doesn’t fit the tone of the final film.

      4. So… big, big question here. There are definitely more qualified people who could answer this, but here’s my opinion, as a die-hard movie fan who watched it.
      Culturally, 9/11 changed America forever. There was America pre-9/11, and America post-9/11. In about 90 minutes, it was made very clear that the “strongest country in the world” could be victim to a horrific attack. And everything changed overnight. This included in the movies.

      Directly after 9/11, everyone was scared. Damn near every single television channel in America played the news 24/7 in the seven days following 9/11. That is not an exaggeration. I believe Nickelodeon still played some cartoons, but that was it. Film directors began removing shots of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon out of their films. The release of the movie Training Day (which is set in LA) was pushed a few weeks from mid-September to October, just because America could not handle the stress of an intense action movie (this was the thinking of the movie studios, anyway.)

      So, directors and studios were actively trying to not remind audiences of 9/11, terrorism, World trade Center, all that stuff. Then Spike Lee, one proudest New Yorkers who has ever lived, begins making his next film, 25th Hour, and he announces, “Fuck that. We aren’t avoiding 9/11. We’re talking about it directly.” 25th Hour was the first mainstream American film to do this, let alone do it so blatantly. I saw this movie in the theater four times and the reactions I would hear during Monty’s “Fuck You” monologue were wild. No one that famous in America had used their art to address the significance of 9/11. I really try to remind people of this when this movie gets brought up. Someone had to talk about 9/11, and Spike Lee did. Good on him.