Monty (Edward Norton) is a drug dealer in New York who is busted when the police search his house. 25th Hour documents his final day of freedom which he spends with his friends Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Slaughtery (Barry Pepper), his girlfriend “Naturelle” (Rosario Dawson) and his dad (Brian Cox).
While it starts out as a thriller, and contains scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in a crime film, the rest of it suggests Lee wanted to make a drama about a man dealing with the fact he’s going to spend a long time behind bars, and what he does with his final hours. Its title and description (“In 24 short hours Monty goes to prison for seven long years”) suggest a race-against-time style thriller “as he struggles to redeem himself in the 25th hour” yet the reality is that he spends most of the film hanging out with friends trying to enjoy himself.
To add to the confusion, everyone else in the film has sub plots that are never resolved. Jacob, a school teacher, has to deal with a flirtatious student, which is never resolved. Monty’s dad has financial issues that at one stage seemed important and are then forgotten about. His friend Slaughtery is introduced to us at work where he seems to be having some problems, which come to nothing.
Ultimately this film all comes down to its confusing final scene, and a moment of decision which feels like it should have been built up to in some way. It’s dealt with in such a cack-handed way that it suggests Lee himself didn’t quite know what he was going for.
It does have a few sparky or memorable scenes, and reflects a disillusionment with the modern world typical of films at the turn of the century, but this is an idea that’s been well worn, and is not enough to sustain the film through its sillier, more poorly executed bits.
25th Hour squanders its impressive cast, with a flip flopping plot that fails to say anything interesting or produce much enjoyment. Not resoundingly terrible, instead it suffers from that trait common of all Lee’s worse films: confusion.