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25th Hour

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I consider this Spike Lee's best feature since Do the Right Thing. Though none of the major characters is black, it's one of Lee's most personal and deeply felt works, and the fact that it's based on someone else's material--David Benioff's adaptation of his novel--makes the film all the more impressive. The narrative follows a former drug dealer (Edward Norton) spending his last 24 hours in Manhattan before beginning a seven-year prison term, and the story is also very much about the people closest to him: his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), two best friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and father (Brian Cox). These five characters and a few others, including a teenage flirt (Anna Paquin) and a Ukrainian crook (Tony Siragusa), are so real that you wind up feeling you've known them much longer than this movie's 134 minutes. All of Lee's favorite tropes are on display here--jump cuts, repeated alternate takes, arias of ethnic abuse, dreamy camera movements that make the characters appear to float, and wall-to-wall music (a fine Terence Blanchard score)--and this time they all work. The film persuades us to think long and hard about what prison means, and Lee has shaped it like a poem that builds into an epic lament, especially in a beautiful and tragic closing that risks absurdity to achieve the sublime. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Gardens 1-6, Lake, River East 21, Webster Place.

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