Four Feathers

Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin. Directed by Spike Lee
Running Time: 134 mins
Rated: R

25th Hour is not your typical Spike Lee 'joint'. Rather, it is a focus on America in general, especially on three white Americans, three 30-somethings at crisis points in their lives.

Edward Norton is convincing, as usual, in his performances Monty, a 31-year-old reformed drug dealer who had begun dealing while at school and has continued working for Russian interests in New York City. His change of heart is symbolised by his taking pity on a dog, who has been bashed near the river where he walks and contemplates. In a discussion about Murphy's Law, which his friend thinks is Doyle's law, he takes him to a vet, calls the dog 'doyle' and the dog becomes his favoured companion. He is in a long relationship with a Puerto Rican American, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) whom he suspects of turning him in.

The 25th hour refers to him giving himself up to police for a jail sentence after 24 hours with his friends and family. His friends are played most convincingly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a seemingly repressed literature teacher who is full of lustful feelings especially towards a provocative young student played by Anna Paquin, and Barry Pepper as a no-prisoners-taken Wall Street whiz-kid.

The film focuses on life in the broad scope of New York City, from the schools to Wall Street to drug dealing. The older generation is represented by Brian Cox as Norton's father, a retired alcoholic fireman who owns a bar. There is also 'Uncle' Nikolai, the Russian Mafia drug lord, imprisoned in three countries, but now dominating the trade with his brutal henchman. The younger generation is represented by Mary, dressing provocatively, trying to get into the club, wanting high marks and prepared to give anything to get them, gulping down champagne, some extasy and reacting in shocked amazement after flirting with her teacher when he kisses her.

This is not usual Spike Lee territory. The focus is not on African American issues but rather the broader picture of Lee's own city which he lovingly photographs. He has a scene where the two friends discuss the meaning of life overlooking workmen at Ground Zero. However, there are two flourishes in the Lee manner, a rap attack on everyone and everything, spitting out biases against all races, migrants and religions in the US, spoken by Ed Norton as he looks at himself in a toilet mirror in his father's bar. There is also an over-romanticised fantasy of the American dream at the end, spoken by Brian Cox as he drives his son to prison.

While this ending may seem oversweet but ironic as Norton goes to do his time, beaten by his friend so that he will escape sexual attack in prison, there are many good things in the film, not least the very strong performances which bring the characters and their crises alive.

Fr Peter Malone in the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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