Written by David Benioff, based on his novel
Directed by Spike Lee
Starring Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox
- Deleted scenes
- Running audio commentary with director Lee
- Running audio commentary with screenwriter Benioff
- The Evolution of an American Filmmaker featurette
- Ground Zero tribute
Released by: Buena Vista.
My Advice: Rent it.
Monty Brogan (Norton) has twenty-four hours before he has to report to prison. He basically got busted on a nasty drug-related charge--and doesn't know who tipped the feds off--and now his life's pretty much shot. He's using that last day to spend time with his girlfriend (Dawson), his father (Cox), and his two oldest friends (Hoffman and Pepper). He also needs to set things right with his former parter in crime, Kostya (Tony Siragusa) and their respective boss, Uncle Nikolai (Levani). It's twenty-four hours in the life of Monty, his friends, and the city he called home for his whole life, New York.
First things first. This is an actors' film. Standouts are Norton and Cox, easy. Norton is trying to be strong in the face what he sees as his impending doom (he's a very pretty boy and he knows he's meat once he gets behind bars), but the cracks show as the day wears on. And Cox is just so quietly shattered by his only son going away for seven years--the cracks show less, but you can hear the engines running behind the facade. Beautifully done. Everyone's strong, though, and it's nice to see Pepper working, especially after Battlefield Earth.
The trouble comes from what the film tries to be. As I've seen before, Lee simply tries to do too much in one film. You've got the story of Monty's last day, then you've got these strange stories about his friends (including Hoffman's character's apparently lethal crush on a student of his, played by Anna Paquin) that don't seem to go anywhere. Having listened to the Benioff commentary, I think the problem lies in the constraints of time they had to work with. By that, I mean the two-hour-plus of the film. From Benioff's comments, it sounds like the book concerns itself with a day in the life of Monty and everyone around him. So you get a day of Pepper, a day of Hoffman--even a day of Levani. So that you see how their lives interact with Monty as a central character--but they exist independent of him. Here, in the film, everything is dependent upon Monty--so it feels like it's trying to both be Monty's film alone and carry some remnants of what the novel originally was. They should have either adapted the novel straight, or made it Monty solo. Instead, the subplots of Hoffman with his student, and Pepper with his job--they feel like orphan storylines.
To make matters worse, Lee is very aware that he is the first film to shoot in New York City after 9/11. He gets major points for wanting to bring the point home that this is a New York post-tragedy, but he loses almost all of those points by not doing it with any subtlety whatsoever. The opening credit sequence with the memorial towers of light was enough to get the point across, but then he has glimpses of Ground Zero and Norton's out-of-the-blue what-the-hell-was-that-all-about diatribe of hate against everyone--including Bin Laden. Instead of complimenting what the story should really be about--Monty--it feels tacked on and forced. Lee in his commentary states how he didn't want it to be a "stuck-on appendage," and well, it just didn't work out.
Now with that bitching out of the way, you must understand what I said originally: from an actor's perspective it's a fine flick. It's worth grabbing to watch for that alone. Also, Terence Blanchard's musical score is quite good. The film runs a bit long, but I think with some editing out of the overdone 9/11 material and trimming of the superfluous subplots, it could have been fixed.
The two commentaries are a mixed bag. First, they reference deleted scenes which don't appear on the disc--which is a huge pet peeve of mine. If you figure out you're not going to include a scene, then at least go back to the commentary and edit the part out where it's mentioned. That takes so little effort and it keeps viewers from being disapppointed when you make them go look for something that isn't there. The deleted scenes that are provided you're glad they left out. One, "Sway," goes through the various characters' definitions of the word, and feels like it belong in Benioff's original concept and not the hodge-podge the film became.
Lee spends his time in his commentary doing three things: not talking, talking about the obvious bits of the film's philosophy--just in case, I guess, you didn't figure them out for yourself, and lastly detailing what's going on in the film. For example, we appreciate the explanation of the double and triple shots of hugs, but we don't need them pointed out to us after that. We can see somebody hugging, thanks.
Benioff's commentary is interesting just from the standpoint of it being based on his first published novel and he did the adaptation. So he's got a lot to say about getting published, scripting from it, the changes that were made to the novel to get it onto the screen--and the like.
The Evolution featurette is a twenty-minute love letter to Lee, which is a huge disappointment. From the title, you'd think it would be about, well, what the title says. Instead, it's a bunch of celebs praising Lee and then him commenting on his films. The narration isn't even really factually correct. For example, it refers to Summer of Sam as being "critically acclaimed." For those unfamiliar with Hollywood-speak, that means it didn't make any money, but hey, critics liked it. Trouble is, critics were pretty much divided down the line of liking or disliking it. So it wasn't really "acclaimed" by any kind of majority. Again, a big disappointment.
About the only thing on the features that has its intended impact is the Ground Zero tribute, which consists of footage shot of the location backed by Blanchard's score. It's only a few minutes long, but it's remarkably moving--it manages to do in its short span as a 9/11 tribute what the film couldn't in more than two hours.
Fans of good acting or Spike Lee's films will want to give this a rental. However, the features just don't stack up to bolster the film up to a buy category. But it's worth watching just to see Norton and company working their arses off.
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