There's a scene in Spike Lee's 25th Hour that last night the filmmaker called, “A love-hate letter to New York.” If you've seen the movie you know exactly what he's talking about. Edward Norton's character is looking into a mirror and his reflection lashes back in a tirade that seems right at home in Lee's Do The Right Thing.
That five minute sequence in Lee's 2002 film 25th Hour — the first major motion picture filmed in the city after 9/11 — stirred a discussion at Lincoln Center ten years after September 11, 2001. “For me the love always wins out,” Spike Lee reiterated about the scene, “I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.”
Written by David Benioff and based on his novel of the same name, the script for 25th Hour lacked that so-called 'Fuck You' scene, even though it was in the book. Lee and lead actor (and co-producer) Edward Norton discussed it and put the powerful scene into the film to underscore the main character's mentality at a crucial moment in the story.
“The love for New York in this film is unbelievable,” observed the Film Society's Scott Foundas during a post-screening Q & A with Lee, actors Norton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as producer Jon Kilik. Foundas began the conversation by asking the group to recall where they were on 9/11. Hoffman was here in the city, but the rest were on the West Coast. Determined to get home, Lee found his way onto a train that brought him East.
Edward Norton said that he knew he wanted to work with Spike Lee immediately after seeing Do The Right Thing in 1989. After watching the movie for the first time, he walked right to the box office and bought a ticket to watch the movie again. After that he pursued Spike, writing him letters to suggest a collaboration that finally materialized with 25th Hour.
In the wake of 9/11, Norton stars as a convicted drug-dealing New Yorker with just one day left before has to check into prison to pay for his crime. A sober sensibility hangs over the film as Norton's character wanders through his life in the city before leaving it for a long time. He stars alongside a cast that includes Hoffman, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Barry Pepper and Brian Cox. Members of the cast called the movie downright sad during last night's conversation.
Underappreciated when it was released in late 2002, 25th Hour would later end up on critics lists as one of the best movies of the decade.
Cast and crew praised Lee for a film that is perhaps even more resonant nearly ten years after it was made. Norton said it was because he never shied away from artistic expression in a time of crisis.
“He grapples with what's happening to us now,” Ed Norton enthused, “He grapples with what's happening in our city [and] the moral issues that confront us in our lives.” Continuing, he said, “Spike took this text, he did not ignore the moment. He made it something.”
Tiring of the praise after a bit, Lee smiled wryly and interrupted, “Can we just talk about the movie?”