Spike Lee’s 25th Hour

Watched 25th Hour since it came out? I’m doing a little Spike Lee thing right now. This weekend I’m going to watch 25th and Malcolm X with Lee’s commentary, and I have a feeling they will provide a penetrating look into his “thing”, as I think both of these films take themselves quite seriously… a demonstration of Lee’s ambition. Very telling. 25th Hour makes perfect sense, to me; why it exists, who wrote it, the mentality behind it. The Slate review states that the 9/11-slash-New-York stuff in the film is literally just unrelated to anything else that’s happening, and I feel that I agree completely. Lee linked it to any angst in the film which happened to be conveniently close enough. But what else would a diehard New Yorker use to fill in that void in 2002?

Benched.

In the background there’s a problem. It’s been hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Such a film, such a script… ambitious insensitivity yields perverted results. It presents a powerful, patriotic moral center to a Man’s existence (and, I’ll add, a Woman’s role in that existence). It strikes me as superficial. Come to think of it, Mnemosyne’s tugging reminds me of similar person… it was my old boss at a telemarketing sales job in Los Angeles. This man was in no way intelligent, or sensitive. But he had no fear, or maybe he just knew how to correctly navigate that fear because I often saw that quick, dumb gear-whirring expression on his face when faced with conflict. He was 33 years old, ran the office, and was a multi-millionaire (“Liquid.”). Wildly arrogant. His admitted trophy-wife did the accounting. He violently expunged me from the office – which I know is the inevitable outcome of the combination of my personality with the Insensitive Despot. It’s in my best interest to remain on the fringe while these people, with their ambitions, take over the world. (digression: has it ever occurred to you that the world is perhaps in the state its in, that wars are fought, because many people who run things are people who want to run things? Want to be in charge of other people?)

I can criticize all I want (and other such empowering expressions) but I won’t deny that the film’s final line got to me just a bit. Brian Cox (daddy) wraps up his highly fanciful depiction of Monty’s potential alternate life trajectory with “This life came so close to never happening.” OK. That’s it. It’s beautiful. This stupid fucking misogynistic script got to me. I first saw that ending, when the film came out, and balked, but I now realize how necessary it is. (what I find hardest to believe is the notion that Naturale will leave her old life 4eva to join Monty in Bumblefuck, but films exist because of similar conceits, things that don’t happen in real life… BUT THEN AGAIN the rule is that if you’re going to stretch disbelief, to do it in the first 15 minutes of your film…).

Edward Norton is… surely, this script’s champion. He’s tolerable, as an actor, but he’s too self-aware. An actor like Norton should work for a living, shouldn’t be given too much freedom. Hoffman’s character is fine but I can’t help but see the wimpy emasculated white guy around his street-talking contemporaries, and the way that wimpiness has been inexorably tied to his status as an academic. Can’t help but think it was a very easy role to write – the “weak” friend. Barry Pepper plays a character who is a cautionary tale for all screenwriters (including myself); a character who shoots his mouth off constantly and domineers all encounters must be handled with care. He’s really the most interesting character in the film because he’s the only one without any fear, who plows forward, who’s a machine. He takes over his scenes. You can imagine what he would do in Norton’s shoes. He’s also the mayor of Shithead City. Rosario Dawson and Anna Paquin were both well-cast, I have no beef.

Perhaps the problem is that I’m supposed to be impressed by what I can only see as feigned sagacity – which is, frankly, pretention. A little humility is the solution. Or maybe it’s the unspoken propagandist endorsement of capitalism and the American way of life. Yes, that too. Thankfully in most cases there are enough shrewd people around who instinctively know not to take such people seriously – and they want to be taken seriously. It’s simple insecurity. Maybe it’s even understandable. See, there are reasons to watch 25th Hour. The one thing it lacks, I think, is the part where Barry Pepper’s character kills Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character while screaming “THIS – IS – SPARTA!”

afterword:
and then, a few hours after this article was posted, I saw this.

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