Friday, November 30, 2012

Killing Them Softly



KILLING THEM SOFTLY: Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta. Directed by Andrew Dominik (97 min.)

Killing Them Softly is perhaps the most laborious 97 minute film I have ever seen.  It is lifeless, indulgent, dark and moody, and lacking any real redeeming factors.  Sometimes a film like this tries to take some sort of metaphorical stance; these crime films try and reflect a certain time and place and era of American history.  Think Dog Day Afternoon, only not.  Instead of subtlety and light reference, Killing Them Softly beats its point into the ground with the most shoe-horned snippets of nonsense I can remember in a crime drama.

Ray Liotta plays Markie Trattman, the leader of an underground, mob-controlled poker game.  Two idiot thugs, Frankie and Russell, (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelson) are hired to knock off the game.  Because, you see, Markie already knocked off his own game a few months earlier and was busted (never mind he is still alive and running the card game), so if his game gets waxed again he will take the fall and these two morons will get off Scott free.  Yeah right.  In no time after the heist the mob is on the scene and they send in Jackie, a pragmatic, slick killer played by Brad Pitt.  True, this is a Brad Pitt vehicle, but his character operates like the shadow of his better roles.  He coasts through scenes like a caricature of cooler characters in his past.

Jackie tells his mob connect (Richard Jenkins) he needs another man for the job, so he brings Mickey (James Gandolfini) in to take care of the second goon.  Imagine Tony Soprano as a broke alcoholic whose family entirely abandoned him, and you have Mickey.  Mickey is clearly not in his right mind to go through with the job, so he is sent on his way and Jackie must take care of them both.  Which emphasizes the fact that Gandolfini's character serves no purpose. 

There is very little in the way of character development here.  We spend a great deal of time with Frankie and Russell, the two crooks, and they are as unlikeable and dense as any hoods in a movie like this.  I have no qualms about spending time with idiots and lowlifes, but they have to be either amusing or interesting.  The conversations these guys have - just a testament to the clumsiness and aimlessness of the script - are vulgar but not funny, and they go nowhere and last entirely too long.  All the conversations throughout the film feel unnecessary.  It's as if Jackie could have come in, found these two hoods, taken care of them, and left.  But if that were the case we wouldn't have been able to tie in politics.

The film apparently takes place in late 2008 in a post-Katrina New Orleans, although there is no mention of the city and no real reference to the Presidential race until the very end when our life force has been drained.  And yet, every TV set and radio is tuned in to C-SPAN or CNN.  I haven't frequented many underground poker games, but I don't think they would be watching a State of the Union address from George W. Bush.  I have been in a bar or two over the years and none of those TVs have been on C-SPAN.  I cannot imagine hired hitmen and thugs tune in to NPR while they're waiting in their car to beat up a gangster.  My point is, all of these weak references to political turmoil and the economic collapse of 2008 are so water thin, yet so driven into the ground, they grow into a massive distraction and serve no purpose to push the film forward.

Very little in Killing Them Softly pushes the film forward.  Sure, there are some cool camera shots and a lot of mood and atmosphere, and oh boy is there some slow motion.  But there is so much hopeless wandering in the screenplay that even the coolest camera work can't save it.  And goodness is there a lot of time spent sitting in cars, talking, about nothing in particular.  If this film were trimmed down to what it needed instead of having everything it wanted, there may not be a movie at all.  And would that be such a bad thing?

D  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

DVD REVIEW: Lawless

Sometimes a film will try and be something it's not, or load it's plate too full of story lines and subplots and flair to digest.  Lawless does all of this in one way or another, to varying degrees of frustration.  It is a film full of "but"s; the story is intriguing but the execution is unfocused.  The acting is solid, but there is no real connection between these people.  The look and the score of the film is rather nice, but the musical choices are clumsy.  And then there is the violence, which does not bother me when done right, but in Lawless some of it seems repetitive too early on.  Of course I am passing over some of the more positive aspects of the film, but (there's that word again), these little details crept up much too often to simply ignore.

Based on a true story from Matt Bondurant's novel The Wettest County in The World (which was once the working title of the film), the story follows Bandurant's early ancestors and their bootlegging operation in the Appalachian mountains during Prohibition.  There are three brothers with three varying impacts on the story.  Tom Hardy plays Forrest, the quiet Alpha male, the silverback gorilla seated in the corner running the show.  Howard (Jason Clarke) is quiet and is less a factor than Forrest and their younger brother, Jack, played with great energy by Shia LeBeouf.  Jack is the youngest of the brothers and does not have the comfort with violence and gunplay the way his brothers do.  He so desperately wants to be part of the gang, and spends the entirety of the film proving himself.

The Bondurant brothers' peaceful bootlegging business is interrupted one day by a number of outside influences.  A beautiful redhead, Maggie (Jessica Chastain) appears asking for work.  She clearly is looking for a place to hide, though it is never really explored and Chastain's acting is essentially wasted.  The second intruder is much more menacing, as Special Deputy Charlie Rakes appears from Chicago thinking he can force the brothers into paying him off.  Rakes is a psychopath, played by Guy Pearce as a flamboyant, perfume-wearing, possible albino (though he dies his hair as black as night) monster.  It is a great bit of scenery chewing from Pearce who, along with LeBeouf, is having fun.  Everyone else is occupied with looking stoic and wistful.

[SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH] And Gary Oldman appears early on as the famous gangster Floyd Banner.  He is on screen long enough to shoot up a car in fantastic fashion, threaten Jack, and he disappears from the film.  I spent the rest of the picture waiting on his re-emergence, especially once his ties are uncovered.  Alas, he is forgotten, as if his part was edited out of the final act.

The story of Lawless carries on as expected, with threats and fights and reckonings.  But the early violence is just a series of brutal beatings.  Characters get pounded into the dirt repeatedly too often, too early.  It is redundant and violent simply for the sake of being so.  And once the dust settles, the human connections between Hardy, LeBeouf, and Clarke are nonexistent.  I felt nothing substantial for the plight of these actors, no matter how much they tried to force the musical numbers into the dramatic moments. 

Much of Lawless is heightened when it should be toned down.  Think of director John Hillcoat's first feature, The Proposition, a masterpiece of violent storytelling which never felt forced or uneven.  It was perfect, and while it is not proper to compare films like this, I just wonder if a more stripped down version of Lawless wouldn't work better.  Tone down Pearce and his psychotics, get rid of those songs and go with Nick Cave score exclusively.  I was impressed with a few things, but (there's that word... again) the overall feeling just isn't there.

C

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Life of Pi



LIFE OF PI: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan.  Directed by Ang Lee (127 min.)

Life of Pi is easily one of the best films of the year, and it is one of the most beautiful and visually captivating films I have ever seen.  It is an age old story about many many things, most of which revolve around religion, finding God, and understanding the way humans seem to fit into the beauty of the world.  Beyond the story, however, is visual poetry at the hand of Lee, who has managed to create a universe for a young man to brave, all inside one lifeboat.

The story of Pi is told in the framework of the older Pi (Irrfan Khan) narrating his life story to an aimless young author (Rafe Spall).  His birth name is Piscine, but as elementary school bullies made his life miserable (they pronounce it "pissing") he decided to take maters into his own hands and change his name to Pi, the representation of the infinite mathematical number.  Pi grows into a well-adjusted teenager with a loving mother and stern but caring father.  The family owns a local zoo, but when Canada offers to buy these animals Pi's family packs up and heads to North America for work.  This all leads to the shipwreck, and to Pi finding himself stranded in the middle of the ocean with a ration of supplies and, of course, a Bengal Tiger.

This segment of the film is given so much care and attention by Lee, much more than I have given it here.  There is a great deal of patience in the early portions of the film which pay off as the story unfolds into the incredible.

The tiger's name is Richard Parker, and yes there is a reason for such a lavish and whimsical name.  The seamless use of CGI with the tiger goes practically unnoticed.  I understand there were real tigers used for certain shots n the film; I challenge anyone to point one out from the other.  This tiger in this world is very real, and very threatening to Pi as they fight the weather and the natural world to survive. This is no Disney story, and this tiger is never marginalized as a character in the film.  There are some touching moments between Pi and Richard Parker, but nothing cute or amusing for the sake of theatricality.  Everything feels authentic as Pi and Parker drift through the ocean for 221 days.

There will not be a more inspirational picture to come out this year, and dare I say again this is the most gorgeous movie I maybe have ever seen.  There are moments in here which left me in awe, like those scenes where the night sky and the ocean reflect seemingly one another and Pi's boat appears to be hovering in space.  Or those moments where we look up from the ocean floor, through the water to the sky.  It is difficult to describe, but it is magnificent how ever one might describe it.  Later in the film, Pi's boat finds a mysterious island formed almost entirely out of tree roots and vines, inhabited by meerkats and holding a darker secret.

Suraj Sharma plays Pi and is just as well balanced as the rest of the film, never getting too high or too low.  Life of Pi takes on some of the largest questions about faith, doubt, and who's God is right when all is said and done.  Pi's approach to religion is a fresh perspective and it shapes him before the adventure.  There is also a great deal of focus on human interaction with animals, and what makes us different from them.  All of these philosophical questions are raised and appropriately none are answered because, simply, there are no answers.  As it should be.  But make no mistake there are feelings, emotions, faith and love at the center of Life of Pi, one of the most wonderful films of 2012.

A




Monday, November 19, 2012

Lincoln


LINCOLN: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn (145 min.)

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln takes the right approach to the larger-than-life historical figure.  The execution of the film itself, technically speaking, is masterful.  And of course this is a barrage of great performances from some of the best actors and actresses of the modern era.  But it never connected with me beyond the level of historical docu-drama.  The urgency of the proceedings were lost on me, and that isn't to say this slice of Lincoln's life is not fascinating - perhaps it is the most interesting historical aspect of his life and career.  But the film is detached from any engaging emotion. 

Rather than try and tackle the life of our Sixteenth President as a whole, Lincoln wisely chooses the man's most important presidential moment - the passing of the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery - and fills in the life around him.  Daniel Day-Lewis does what is expected here, embodying the President in a way so fully realized, so convincing, I cannot imagine another actor doing better or disappearing farther into the role.  Lincoln is tall but unassuming, less a Washington politician and more of a storyteller.  Most of the political debates with his peers are shaped around anecdotes from his life as a Midwestern attorney and farmboy.  For such a strong man, his voice was soft and easy.

And despite being an outsider to the pomp and circumstance of Washington politics that had already taken hold way back in 1865, Lincoln still knew how to work the system to get what he wanted.  He was not above manipulating votes to get his law passed; it just so happened that his law was the most important in American history.  Lincoln and his trusted Secretary of State, a decidedly more flamboyant and energetic William Seward (David Strathairn) work the fringes of the opposition to get votes.  They employ a trio of, well, I'm not entirely sure what their profession is; their task is to, basically, buy votes.  The fact these three ancillary men are played by the greatness of John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, and James Spader is a testament to the type of cast Spielberg was able to collect for the picture.

Tommy Lee Jones is the clear front runner for the Supporting Actor Oscar.  As Thaddeus Stevens, the stubborn congressman from Pennsylvania, Jones has the advantage of being the most interesting stuffed shirt in Washington.  He adds a certain element of humanity to Lincoln where Day-Lewis can never escape what is expected of his portrayal.  Sally Field has the most challenging role in the film in my opinion, playing the manic Mary Todd Lincoln.  She is a strong willed woman whose energy and mental state often wreck her emotions.  Field plays the role perfectly, without melodrama or excessive outbursts.  I cannot imagine what Lincoln could have gotten done had he not had the family he did have.

As I said before, Spielberg took the right approach to such a legendary figure.  With a life as large and powerful as Abraham Lincoln, a single film could not accurately encompass the figure.  A miniseries would be in order.  So Lincoln took a slice of the President's life and allowed screenwriters Tony Kushner and Doris Kearns Goodwin (who wrote the book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln") fill in the back story of Lincoln's early life.  In doing this, he opened a new avenue of Lincoln's life most are not privy to; we get to witness Lincoln maneuvering through politics and working a certain behind-the-scenes magic of which most Americans are not aware.  And on top of it all, the cinematography of longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski makes the film rich and fittingly antique in the use of natural, piercing sunlight.

And yet, I cannot fully support Lincoln because beyond the set design, the sharp acting, the writing and the filmmaking in general, the emotional connection is lacking.  The film is kept at a distance for much too long and I was never allowed to feel what I wanted to feel by the vacancy of the film in the heart department.  Lincoln is a beautiful, smart, and full of greatness from great actors.  But Spielberg is too hands off at times he should be more involved.  The film follows the passing of the thirteenth amendment and goes right into Lincoln's assassination; but even these final moments, which should be greatly emotional, cannot hold a candle to even the smallest moments in Spielberg's better dramas.

B

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Great Entrances Series - 1: DeNiro in Mean Streets



As Robert DeNiro walzes into Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets - and subsequently into super-stardom - we are aware this film has taken on an entirely new tone.  As Johnny Boy, DeNiro is the instigator of Scorsese's gritty gangster debut.  He is trouble, as evidenced by his entrance to The Rolling Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash," a girl under each arm.  But what is more telling to the appearance of Johnny Boy is the cold, nervous stare from Harvey Keitel's Charlie, who isn't exactly happy to see DeNiro's character saunter into the bar. 

And make no mistake, the threatening red glow of the entire scene is no accident; says everything about the threat of Johnny Boy coming into play.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall


SKYFALL: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes (145 min.)

Skyfall is the best Bond film ever made, and it isn't even a close contest.  Beyond that, it is one of the best films of the year, from an accomplished and competent director in Sam Mendes, whose directorial eye paired up with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins take everything here up to another level.  It is an exhilarating film with solid action, a dramatic film with compelling characters, and a smart film with a villain to match just about any Bond villain to come along in the last fifty years.

Daniel Craig returns as 007, now fully engaged in the role without a seconds hesitation.  In the standard opening sequence, Bond and an assistant field agent, Eve (the beautiful Naomi Harris), chase a man through the streets of Istanbul in an attempt to recover a list of undercover MI6 agents across the world.  The man escapes, the list falls into the wrong hands, and because of a daring call by M (Judi Dench, who gets much more to work with here), Bond is left for dead and the list is out in the open.  Of course, the list resurfaces in the form of a computer virus, and Bond is back from the dead to try and find out who is responsible for exposing agents across the globe.

Bond's mission takes him to various pockets of the world, as usual, but there is nothing standard about the way this Bond adventure looks or feels.  He is injured, both mentally and physically.  Bond fights off an assassin high atop a Chinese skyscraper backlit by neon blue lighting, and it is one of the more beautiful cinematic moments of the year.  As he glides into Macau, off the coast of China, into a casino/hotel lit by paper lanterns and fireworks, the visual artistry at work fits the Bond legend and is simply stunning.  The locales are shown off better than they ever have been before, and on top of everything the performances are filled out by great actors.  Craig is excellent as usual, and Dench is given much more of a role this time around.  And enter Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, a bureaucrat looking to straighten out the MI6 program.  And then there is Javier Bardem.

His entrance is amazing, one of the best ever in the franchise.  Javier Bardem is wonderfully slimy as Silva, an ex-MI6 agent who has a grudge against M and is determined to get his revenge.  He also happens to have an intriguing side effect from a cyanide pill in his past, but we won't discuss further.  Bond films are often defined by the power of their villain; in that case, Skyfall is the best because Bardem is one of the best.  He is slick, creepy, and diabolical all without seeming over the top.  Even his shock of blond hair fits in with his eccentric personality.  And speaking of eccentricities, Bond may be in for a slightly different sort of villain this time around, at least in the sexuality department.

As if that wasn't enough, the third act of Skyfall strips away everything, absolutely everything that has come before it.  Not only in the film at hand, but in the 22 pictures leading up to this moment.  Here is James Bond, defending his honor and his country without the advantages of gadgetry from Q (Ben Whinshaw, hearkening in the new-age movement) or the wizardry of technology.  This is a climax on the heath in Scotland, and it is thrilling, heartfelt, and satisfying in every way imaginable. 

In 2008 Marc Forster, traditionally a dramatic filmmaker, attempted to carry on the Daniel Craig Bond series with Quantum of Solace and failed in just about every way imaginable.  So there was some apprehension on my part when Sam Mendes was announced.  Despite my sheer admiration for Mendes and each one of his films in their own way, I was skeptical about his ability to direct an action film like Skyfall.  And I am pleased to say I was wrong.  From the opening shot you can see Mendes at work.  And beyond his direction, screenwriters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade have a firm grasp on the Bond lore.  Everything is in play here, from the martini to the Aston Martin to the signature lines.  There won't be a better action film to come out over the next twelve months for sure, and the next director of Bond 24 has his hands decidedly full.

A
 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

THURSDAY THROWBACK: Mulholland Drive (2001)

My affinity for David Lynch films comes in waves.  Things have to be right for me to challenge myself and plunge into the filmmaking of the most celebrated avante-garde director in history.  For years and years I resisted Lynch and his penchant to exude the befuddling and bewildering landscape of his mind.  I have seen Mulholland Drive now more than five times, and only my last time did the film click for me.  Much like Blue Velvet - which is entirely different in that it's a linear narrative - it took time and dedication to absorb the greatness of the work.  I always knew there was a great film inside Mulholland Drive, but for whatever reason - be it age or seasoning or film education - it wasn't working on me.  Finally, I approached the picture in the right way and was allowed to bask in its greatness.

The trick with understanding Mulholland Drive is to not try and understand it, not in the literal sense or in the way we all try and take in films.  It is human nature to try and connect the dots in a film, to put this image with that thematic background, this symbolism with that character.  With Mulholland Drive, once you quit trying to put the pieces together and allow the film to simply wash over you, the striking intensity, imagery, and impact of the Lynch artistry are right there in plain sight.  Here is a film not about dreams as a poor excuse to eschew sense or explanation; it is simply, a dream. 

Characters and situations appear and disappear, some are never seen again, some have strange tics or simple lines of dialogue that resemble those broken moments of a waking dream.  There is a plot lying beneath the images of the film involving the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.  Only that Hollywood sheen is polluted by business and corruption.  Naomi Watts plays Betty, a bright-eyed Midwestern beauty with aspirations of becoming a famous actress.  She is in love with the idea of Hollywood and the nature of celebrity.  Those ideas are slowly dissolved when she arrives at her Aunt's condo to find Rita (Laura Harring), a woman who walked away from a car accident as the film opened.  An accident in which she was going to be murdered by the limo driver before drag racers spoiled the plan.  Betty is intrigued by Rita's story, and she relishes the idea of being a Nancy Drew type sleuth in order to help Rita find out where she belongs.

All the while there is the story of a director, Adam (Justin Theroux), who is being manipulated to put a certain woman in his film.  Behind the scenes of this manipulations, there appears to be a strange small man pulling all the strings.  These two narratives intersect, but not completely, and not to a satisfying conclusion in the traditional sense.  And these two plots soon become secondary to the dreamlike atmosphere of the film.  Other stories float like satellites around the Betty and Adam stories, and bizarre happenings seem to appear out of nowhere.  There is the eerie man behind the diner, the cowboy behind the scenes of the film manipulation, the dead woman in the condo. 

And then, without any build up, characters switch places and identities and things truly spiral down into the rabbit hole.  The final moments of Mulholland Drive have no explanation in the real world, and no real explanation in the movie.  Nothing is explained as it doesn't need to be.  They simply happen, much in the way things simply happen in your dreams.  People look like other people, go by other names in dreams from time to time.  Lynch has his hand on the visual pulse of dreams, even as they dissolve into nightmares.

My resistance towards the artistry of David Lynch has since lifted, much as the cloud of confusion I had with Mulholland Drive.  Each of his films these days are a marvel of challenging and introspective filmmaking.  There is something decidedly freeing about not struggling to piece together the structure of a film which bucks the tradition.  Mulholland Drive is a challenging and beautiful film with its grip on dreamscapes tighter than any other film in history.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flight


FLIGHT: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Don Cheadle (138 min.)

Flight tells the story of a man imprisoned by alcoholism and drug abuse.  The only catch is, this man is a gifted airline pilot who, once a malfunction occurs on his plane, lands the jet in a field in a way no other man could have done and saves a hundred lives.  He just happened to be loaded at the time.  This is the moral conundrum at the heart of the story and at the heart of the man, Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington in what might be his best performance in a decade.

As the film opens we see Whip in an airport hotel room, hungover and cleaning off the remnants of beer bottles scattered around the room.  He just pulled an all-nighter with a flight attendant, and he does a few lines of cocaine to "even himself out" because he has to fly a commercial airliner in two hours.  He cleans up, knocks down another drink or two, and takes off through a storm into clear blue skies where he can polish off a screwdriver and take a nap.  Only the plane malfunctions and in a moment of pure instinct, Whip rolls the plane over to balance out the nosedive.  The crash scene in Flight is unlike most crashes in film; it is quiet, almost serene as Whip navigates towards the empty field.  The exhilaration of this crash is unlike anything I have felt in previous crash-related pictures.

Only six people die and Whip is hailed as a hero.  Out of ten simulated crashes like his, all ten pilots failed to pull off what he did in the skies.  Of course, toxicology reports come into play and Whip is facing what might be life in prison.  This is where any of the sensationalism of the first act goes away.  We meet Whip in the midst of a bender and in control of a jet, but once the crash happens Flight then becomes an intensely personal character study of a man battling alcoholism.  Bruce Greenwood plays Whip's oldest - and most tolerant - friend, Charlie, who brings in an attorney (Don Cheadle) to clean up the toxicology reports.  Whip also has a close friend and supplier in Harling Mays, played by John Goodman as an eccentric old man with a pony tail and a wiry personality. 

The most fascinating relationship is between Whip and a recovering addict, Nicole, played by relative unknown Kelly Reilly.  Nicole and Whip meet at the hospital and fall into a relationship which quickly becomes threatened by Whip's alcoholism.  Everything is threatened by Whip's brutal and unflinching alcoholism.  There has never been a more unsettling portrayal of the disease this side of Nicolas Cage's brilliant work in Leaving Las Vegas.  As the pressures of the hearing near, Whip fights his disease and loses most of the time.  This is a story of his struggle.

It has been twelve year since Robert Zemeckis directed a live action movie with Cast Away in 2000.  That was another film with a seminal performance from Tom Hanks.  Although the film is a little long at times, the performance of Washington kept me firmly engaged through the heavy segments.  And the final moments of the film are as gripping and emotionally devastating as anything I have seen in 2012.  Flight is not what it appears to be in the advertisements; here is a study of the damage alcoholism and drug abuse has on a human.  Even if that human might be the only man on the planet who could have done what he did to save a hundred lives.

B+

Thursday, November 1, 2012

THURSDAY THROWBACK: 25th Hour (2002)

You know you're watching a good film when you willingly follow along with a scoundrel and a criminal.  You know something special is happening when you find yourself pulling for the bad guy in the end.  That is part of the magic of Spike Lee's vastly underrated and compelling drama, 25th Hour.  It is about a man's final night before being sent away to prison; it may as well be his last night on Earth.  I couldn't imagine such a scenario for myself.  But there is no final reveal or twist to the plot revealing this man's innocence just in time.  No, this is a convicted drug dealer who has led a life of crime with a solid run of bad things on his resume.  And yet, the magic of this film is more powerful than any CGI, as you root for this man to find... something.  Anything.

The man here is Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a mid-level drug dealer and heavy hitter amongst his neighborhood cronies.  Monty has been pinched by the DEA and sentenced to seven years in a Federal prison, where he realizes he will go from tough guy to jail bait for sodomy and brutality as soon as he sets foot inside the walls of the penitentiary.  We pick up with Monty in his last twenty-four hours of freedom.  He hangs out with his friends, his girlfriend, and says goodbye to his stomping ground.  His closest friend, Frank (Barry Pepper), feels bad for Monty, but not enough to change his own ways.  Monty occupies the halls of these dance clubs and restaurants with Frank, but he may as well be a ghost.

Monty's other friend, Jacob, could not be any more different than Monty and Frank.  He is a nervous schoolteacher, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the type of awkward and uncertain role that defined his early career.  Jacob is especially uneasy when a student of his (Anna Paquin) appears at a nightclub and seduces him.  The trio dance and drink their way through the New York nightlife until, alas, the night is over.  Monty and Frank find themselves alone in the breaking dawn, and Monty has a plan; Frank must do something to help Monty survive.  This final act of friendship is a brutal and shocking moment of clarity between the two men, a moment which Monty has been angling towards all night.

Monty wanted to be a fireman, a working man like his father, but was seduced into a life of crime.  Before he knew it, things got out of hand and here he is, searching for the road crooked map of his life.  Edward Norton is perfect here, as he usually is.  As Monty, Norton carries the weight of a condemned man in his basset-hound eyes and heavy soul.  And despite the selfishness of Frank, he is still Monty's closest companion in the world.  He may not have changed in the wake of Monty's conviction, but Monty wouldn't have changed had the shoe been on the other foot.  Frank is simply the reflection of who Monty once was.

The typical directorial flares of Spike Lee are here, from his floating character shots, to the perfect soundtrack manipulations.  What is often overlooked in 25th Hour is the dialogue from David Benioff, who also wrote the novel.  The words are sharp and succinct.  Many words are spoken and not one is wasted.  Despite the material, this is a film about relationships and existential discussions.  I cannot imagine a sentence like Monty's, losing seven years of my life to pay for my past sins.  Perhaps I would make my friend help me the same way Frank helps him.