Film Post September 11th films about New York suddenly became even more of a fantasy. Watching ‘Serendipity’ or ‘Spiderman’ or ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ you really were being transported to a place outside reality. The reasons were clear – it wasn’t possible to allow the horror to enter those films (as the creators of ‘Stein’ remark on the DVD, their film wasn’t about that). But film after film would come out about New York and each one would pass without addressing that thing which was on everyone’s mind, whenever the twin towers appeared or didn’t. When was someone actually going to talk about the things I’m thinking about when I see Central Park now?

With this in mind, you can see why Spike Lee, when preparing ‘25th Hour’ decided that he had to address them. Be careful, though. This isn’t a film expressly about 9/11. It mentions it and the aftermath appears; but it’s there in a way you would suspect it is for most anyone not directly involved on the day – in the atmosphere but not actually address those lives directly. So we see characters in bars were lost firemen no longer pull up their barstools, and visit an apartment which overlooks ground zero; and a makeshift dealing room at a brokers. But the characters don’t actually talk about it; there isn’t the scene were they sit down and ask each other what they were doing on the day. By doing all of this Lee improves his film by giving a sheen at least of the real world. For once this is a New York we can recognize (something Lee has always been able to produce).

Or that’s the theory. But it’s also to some extent baggage in a film about something entirely different. Monty is a convicted drug dealer and this is the last day in the outside before a seven year sentence in jail. During the day he confronts all of the issues and decisions which led up to being caught and has come to terms with how is going to survive on the inside; his friend Francis feels guilt for not saving his friend from the gates of hell; Jacob is a teacher with the hots for his student, who looks on Jacob jealously.

Lee tells this stories using a series of contrasting styles. For much of the time I found myself saying “That’s a bit like this film” or “that film”. It lurches from The Sopranoes to a Whit Stillman film to ‘Office Space’ to Mike Hodges. In other films this would be uncomfortable and difficult, but here there is such a flair to the direction, David Benioff’s writing (adapting his own book) and the performances (Rosario Dawson is luminous; Anna Paquin gets to play ditzy for a change; Philip Seymour Hoffman adds another great loser to his list; where the hell did Barry Pepper come from?) It’s almost as though we’re seeing a mix of cinematic cultures to mirror the cosmopolitan nature of New York.

It’s a surprisingly entertaining and funny film; comedy and tragedy mixed to perfection. For once it’s a Edward Norton film its OK to like (that isn’t ‘Fight Club’). And weirdly it doesn’t feel like a Spike Lee ‘joint’. I’ll leave it to the viewer to decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

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