Overall an excellent film with stylistic tendencies and visual appeal. Spike Lee’s direction is fluid and committed, giving the viewer a strong sense of his aims and themes. In spite of this, the film suffers from some notable pacing issues, both from scenes which feel superfluous (empty dialogue) and others which feel incomplete (sudden shifts). An example of the former would be when Montgomery (Norton) and Naturel (Dawson) are chatting in bed during a flashback, while an example of the latter includes when the Ukrainian is found guilty of ratting.
Some of the pacing issue has to do with the film’s visually dynamic nature, shifting in rhythm and editing between parts of the film. Lee is oft credited for his overt stylizing, which includes features such as overlapping editing (car trunk seen closed twice or Monty and Naturel embracing three times for example) wherein the same action is seen multiple times due to intentionally discontinuous editing points. This stylizing lends the film much of its raw energy. The high iso grain throughout the film sets an immersive tone; stark blue or stark red lighting in the club show obvious symbolism while painting the background with a vivid–almost violent–palette. His films are powerful because he threatens the viewer, puts them a little outside their comfort zone, and sets them up to experience a sort of moral or social revolution. As a result, parts of the film, especially during the first half while he’s still setting up the dominos to knock down, feel a bit forced and thereby unnaturally paced simply because the conviction and passion that makes a Spike Lee film great isn’t quite up to speed yet.
There are great performances all around, though I am not particularly a fan of Rosario Dawson. Norton is great here, with some impressive monologues that rival his best from other classics such as American History X and Rounders. His racist rant in the mirror become voice-over is the highlight of the film, and helps create a powerful climax as he looks out the passenger window to see his various antagonists looking at him, turning his own judgemental eyes back on him. The relationship between Francis (Pepper) and Jacob (Hoffman) is delightful. Total opposites, the amount of love and friendship they share is tantamount to their unspoken resentment, making their interactions all the more fascinating. The ending, with its dual-scenario 25th hour, is especially powerful given the amount of intimate character study we’ve been given. Like the voice-over montage from Monty, his father’s commentary yields much social and moral insight, even it is, like before, coming from a particular and thus biased viewpoint. It allows the viewer to consider Monty’s situation carefully, knowing full well both the following: 1. Monty is a criminal caught for crimes he did in fact commit, 2. Monty is not a “bad” guy. So what happens to a guy like Monty, and does justice ever really exist?
85/100 – Excellent (4.5)