(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)
Why I added it to my queue: Because when this first came out, it was supposed to have been Spike Lee's big comeback film -- based on a well-regarded novel, with a mostly white cast, starring such usually reliable stalwarts as Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman, shot in New York literally in the aftermath of September 11th -- and I've always been curious as to why it was instead such a huge bomb.
The reality: [Long sigh.] Well, I'll give Lee this, that he's certainly a man of ambition, who always throws himself feet-first into whatever situation he finds himself in; but in the case of 25th Hour, that's simply not enough to save this uneven film, a noble effort to be sure but that like a lot of Lee's other movies, quickly gets lost in Lee's schizophrenic ideas about what exactly he wants to do. Essentially the tale of a genial white drug dealer enjoying his last 24 hours of freedom before heading upstate to serve out a seven-year sentence, the unspoken thought between him and his cohorts is that this might very likely be the last time they all ever see each other, since this pretty-boy was not really made for federal prison and the chances are high that he will either quickly be killed there or quickly commit suicide; and while I bet its shambling, loose style works well in the context of the original novel, where our darkly charming narrator sort of shuffles from place to place and peer-group to peer-group over this last day of freedom, freely jumping between past and present to philosophically reflect on the unspoken greater issues going on around him, this doesn't make for very compelling cinema, leading to a badly paced script that is sometimes too fast, and much more often too slow. Now add the needless and often awkward shoehorning of 9/11 into the adaptation, because of Lee literally setting up this shoot in New York right before those events took place and so including ground-zero footage simply because he could; plus an unwise decision to put too much emphasis on the partying student of one of our hero's childhood friends turned teacher, who accidentally ends up at the same club as the group this last night they're all getting together (a nice chance to show off the then-blossoming hotness of Anna Paquin, but not serving much else of a purpose at all); plus a bizarre reliance from Lee here on just throwing in weird camera shots and the like on a seemingly random basis (and seriously, what's up with that freaky moving platform thingie that Lee keeps using to wordlessly follow his characters in the VIP room as they stare vacantly into the camera?); and you're left with a film with great but unrealized potential, one that accidentally devolves into unintentional laughter in the most inappropriate places (including that ludicrously cartoonish ending). A good choice for Lee purists, but not really anyone else.
Strangest piece of trivia: Norton went to the trouble of wearing an artificial widow's peak throughout this movie, to stay more in character, although writer David Benioff has confessed that he doesn't even remember adding that detail in the original book.
Worth your time? Not really