The 25th Hour is a well-crafted movie, especially considering that it is based on a book of the same name by David Benioff. (Movies from books don’t always fare well. This one does. Superbly well.)
The storyline seems straight enough. The movie covers the last 24 hours before a man sentenced to 7 years in prison starts serving his time. But the movie delves into deeper issues below the surface story level.
Different narrative devices are used throughout and weaved together masterfully: monologues, alternative future scenes, and flashbacks. In one scene, the camera does a stunning job of capturing the angst on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s face—he remains still and in the foreground as the background rushes away.
The cast does an outstanding job with their roles. The characters aren’t two-dimensional and actually have a chance to develop. Each person—the son, the partner, the childhood friend, the guy on his way to prison—is working through his or her own issues with the situation of Monty going to prison.
Monty wanders around New York in his final hours and brings together friends from his childhood. They hadn’t been in real contact for years, but these are the people he turns to in crisis. And they promise to do anything for him. The promise leads to an emotionally grueling final encounter. The last time they see Monty will be forever etched with what he made them do.
We see the blame. Lots of blame. Of each other. Of one’s self. The friend who never said anything about him dealing drugs. The girlfriend who lived a life of luxury with the money he earned. The father who wasn’t there for his son after his wife—his son’s mother—died. And Monty, for messing up his life so badly, for not getting out when he should have, for getting into dealing in the first place.
Suspicions abound that his girlfriend, Naturelle, touched him, tipped the police off about him and where he hid the drugs and the money. Monty’s small doubts are fed by comments from others. He does eventually learn the truth. As do we by being voyeurs of his life.
But we never learn how it all unfolds for him. We do not even see him enter prison. Just his father driving him to the prison. Or more aptly, supposedly driving him to the prison. In a monologue on the drive, Monty’s father advises him on an alternative: running and never coming back. As the father recounts what he should do, where he should go, and how his life could unfold, we see it all play out. Getting fake papers, getting work, having a family, growing old. And then the camera flashes back to the image of Monty in the car. And the movie ends.
Did the alternative that his father painted become a reality, or did Monty go dutifully to prison? Did he survive prison? Did he come out the other end resembling anything like what he did when he entered prison?
The movie doesn’t provide us with the answers. We are left with a portrait of people struggling with issues in their lives and how one man’s incarceration impacted the lives of so many around him.