25th Hour and Frida

It’s inevitable that filmmakers will respond to 9/11 for months, years, even decades to come. A few already have, most notably in the omnibus film 11’09”01, which consists of shorts from 11 different directors (from Mira Nair and Sean Penn to Shohei Imamura and Amos Gitai) that all respond to the attacks and last exactly nine minutes, eleven seconds each. It has not been released in America, and given the current political climate, don’t count on seeing it here anytime soon. It’s a shame, for although we’re still reeling from the repercussions of it all, we need to examine the attacks from all angles.

In Spike Lee’s latest film, 25th Hour, the shadow of 9/11 looms like a ghost that everyone can see and not ignore. Lee addresses it both subtly (a tribute to the fallen towers makes an eerie appearance in the beautifully sustained opening credits) and explicitly (one character’s apartment has an across-the-street view of Ground Zero, and another’s neighborhood bar is decorated with shrines dedicated to firefighters killed in the attack.) Taken from a novel by David Benioff (who also wrote the screenplay), the film intimately follows Monty (a hardly ever better Edward Norton, which is saying a lot). He's a drug dealer facing his last day of freedom before serving a seven-year prison term for possession. Monty spends the day reexamining his past and dreading his future. He suspects his girlfriend Naturelle (Rosario Dawson) may have been the one who ratted on him to the police. He has dinner with his bartender father (Brian Cox). He attends a party with two old, close friends: Jake (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a shy, tortured prep school teacher and Francis (Barry Pepper) a slick, tortured Wall Street hotshot. All of these supporting figures share his dread, and how they variously deal with his upcoming incarceration conveys an honesty that Lee has only sporadically achieved since Do The Right Thing.

This may be the first major fictional film to make a statement on New York City, post 9/11. It’s fitting and effectively wrenching coming from Lee, possibly the most emphatic of New York-based directors next to Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen (whom already made his tribute of sorts to the city at last year’s Oscars). As usual, Lee’s ambitions sometimes threaten to exceed his abilities. His obligatory operatic montage this time around consists of a mirror image of Monty talking back to himself, ranting against everything he hates about New York and eventually the rest of the world. Of course, the segment’s payoff reveals a fair amount of self-loathing at Monty’s core, and although overblown and verging on foolish, it’s also cathartic, and almost necessary.

For Lee, 25th Hour is uncharacteristically moody and restrained, but typically complicated. It ponders the need for redemption when escape is unattainable, but like Bowling For Columbine, it asks important questions that Lee cannot always answer. It’s essentially a film about needing to take responsibility for one’s actions. Whether Lee’s intention was to extend this theme to New York or America in terms of 9/11 is questionable and a little frustrating. But however uneven or occasionally confused, 25th Hour is encouragingly still the work of a maturing, evolving filmmaker.


Frida is a vibrant, energetic, and occasionally slight Miramax-produced biopic of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. In the title role, Salma Hayek is certainly charismatic, likable, and at least better than Madonna could ever be. The film aptly chronicles all of the devastations and triumphs of Kahlo’s rough life (most of it spent disabled from a trolley accident that nearly destroyed her back and legs). Although it abbreviates Kahlo’s bisexuality somewhat, it does include a wonderful, seductive Sapphic dance and a late tryst with a Josephine Baker-esque chanteuse. The focus, however, is mostly on her on again, off again affair, friendship and marriage with fellow painter Diego Rivera (a massive, boisterous yet tender Alfred Molina). Director Julie Taymor infuses the film with some of the same over-the-top, heavily stylized vigor she brought to her first film, the Shakespeare adaptation Titus, and it doesn’t always work as well here. It’s visually spectacular though, bursting with flashy, bold primary colors. Nearly every shot appropriately has a painterly composition and renderings of what inspired Kahlo’s paintings are always executed inventively. Still, it’s sorely lacking the depth, daring, and imagination that a superior biopic like Before Night Falls or Love Is The Devil suggested so effortlessly.