Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

25th Hour

What About It?
(Click on "What Happens?" below for complete summary of the movie.)

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote  "That is my principal objection to life, I think: It's too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes."  25th Hour is a film that deals with exactly that problem. We're watching a man say goodbye to his whole life because of mistakes he made without even thinking about them until they became habit.

An interesting aspect of the film is that Monty Brogan is not outwardly a cold hearted criminal, but seemingly a pretty nice guy. We're introduced to him stopping on the side of the road to save an injured dog, even following through when the dog bites him. Monty's father tells him "it's a gift, you make friends wherever you go." and we can see that in him. One thing that Monty is not, however, is a martyr. He's been a drug dealer for most of his life, and his looming prison sentence is a direct result of his activities. When Frank points out that Monty deserves it, he's not wrong. The prison sentence is a result of his actions and this should not be a surprise. He was not an unknowing pawn, as he dealt directly with the Russian mafia. As Slaughtery points out, all the nice things he bought were paid for "with human misery." Monty never tries to escape this accusation, he knows its true. However, in this film, it's too late to change any of that. He doesn't show remorse for dealing drugs or working with the mafia. As he points out to his father, "When Sal and his crew were squeezing you for the payments, I didn't hear you wishing I was a law school student then. I won one from you back then. Where did you think that money was coming from?" His occupation provided him benefits that were simply not obtainable through any other means and he enjoyed that. He doesn't feel badly about his occupation, although he feels badly that he threw his life away. It takes his seven year prison sentence to make him realize he shouldn't be doing what he's doing. He takes the opportunity to sever his ties with Uncle Nikolai, which is something of a Pyrrhic victory, but it's at least an attempt to extricate himself from the life he's trapped himself into.

Monty is a drug dealer but in his own way he's a moral person. His morals are simply skewed far differently than normal. He's kind to people (and animals) when he can be. His friends, his girlfriend and his father all love him. It's very clear that Monty tries to uphold his own principles, loyalty being one. His choice as to how he obtained money and influence must have seemed a sensible one at the time. Money is a concern for all of our characters and we see this in Monty's friends as well as himself. We have Frank who lives his whole life to make money in a legitimate fashion. As a result he is lacking any real relationships and presents himself as an egomaniac, constantly reminding others about the desirability his earnings give him. This is not lost on anyone around him, including a bartender, who has clearly heard him bragging about his desirability too many times. Jacob is another story, He comes from privilege, and feels guilty about it, keeping a teaching job in order to contribute something perhaps. Monty is able to work without sacrificing his whole life (until he's busted) like Frank, and still make a lot of money. It would seem he took up dealing drugs as a shortcut to success. Perhaps like many drug dealers, he rationalized that drugs would be sold whether he sold them or not. In Monty's world (and our own) he has the Enron scandal for comparison, as well as his problems with the Bush administration, and corrupt cops. This is not a world of simple good and bad guys. The "legitimately employed" Enron executives belonging much more to Frank's world than to Monty's. He's surrounded by people crossing moral lines. He's a drug dealer but he didn't trick anyone, he can reason he gave people what they wanted.

In the "Fuck You" bathroom scene we see him devote a lot of energy to this practice of comparison. We're given a tour of NY via Monty's angry and convenient stereotypes. After spending the whole day walking around and thinking, he blows up and blames everyone around him, before finally getting to the true cause of his problem, himself. By throwing everything out there, he's able to look and see how ridiculous his justification via comparison is. Sure, he's surrounded by people doing what they shouldn't, but he had his own choices, so he's left with "No. No, fuck you Montgomery Brogan. You had it all and you threw it away, you dumb fuck! " This monologue also tells us how much a part of Monty, his community is, as only someone tied to NY would rattle off the caricatures he's learned so quickly. On a deeper level, every accusation, asserts that his position is the correct one, which is of course not sustainable and ends with him pointing in his own direction.

Of course taking responsibility, doesn't eliminate the terrifying prospect of seven years in prison. His epiphany can't absolve him. Everyone's actions have consequences and in this film with the shadow of 9/11 everywhere around our characters,  it would seem difficult to believe in storybook endings. It's fitting then, that his revelatory moment happens closed off in a small bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. As if to say, sure there's a cruel and unfair world all around you, but you still have to look at yourself. The atmosphere of 9/11 is a heavy presence in the film, although it's not talked about directly much other than Frank and Jacob looking out the window at ground zero. Even so, it's everywhere, the towers of light, the flags, Brogan's Bar with it's firefighter memorial. The tragedy is part of the atmosphere.This is a loss that looms over the whole city, and it mirrors Monty's impending loss of his future.

Edward Norton is perfect in this role and he gives his Monty a contradictory depth. We like our movie drug dealers to be nasty and evil, but here we have someone who isn't that at all, but a guy who made a big mistake a long time ago and naturally built his whole life around his error. We know he earned his sentence, yet we feel bad that one of his friends betrayed him. We dread his prison time, knowing that the things which make him likeable will only be problems inside. We also know that while Monty serves his time, Nikolai's operation will continue as it always has. While the film doesn't come out and directly critique drug laws it does pose that question. Nikolai is the nasty ruthless drug dealer, and he's untouched by the Rockefeller law cited here, Monty certainly being just a means to try and get to Nikolai. Monty's sense of loyalty aside, he knows that to turn on Nikolai is certain death, so the penalties would seem ineffective, only working on someone deluded enough to not realize this. Perhaps seven years is a suitable sentence for a kilo, but the efforts of the DEA seem paltry against the bigger movers and most effective against those like Kostya who aren't smart enough to know better. But again, ineffective drug laws are simply part of the world Monty lives in, not any justification for what he's done. Monty's speech regarding this being his first offense, is just another part of the mistake he's made, and likely a part of the justification he made for his lifestyle a long time ago.

This is a movie with an important supporting cast. We learn a lot about Monty and the world he lives in through his friends. Rosario Dawson is great as Naturelle, who seems like a good girlfriend for Monty. Even when he thinks she betrayed him, he can't bring himself to accuse her or ask her about it, knowing that even if she had, she's good in ways he can't be, and he still loves her even if she has. She appears to be loyal and devoted, but she has her own moral dilemma. As Frank points out when he confronts her, she has enjoyed the benefits of Monty's drug dealing. While she might have told him he should quit, she has to wonder how convincing her arguments were intended to be.

Barry Pepper is great as Frank, and he has a lot in common with Frank. He has the same desire for influence, but rather than take a shortcut, he's pursued his ambition through legal means. As a result Frank has devoted himself strictly to making money, and by his reasoning, increasing his desirability. Frank is the realist of the group, and not afraid to point out that Monty deserves his sentence, although he still "loves him like a brother." He spends a lot of energy reinforcing his own status as one of the "99 percentile." We see at work however, that Frank's security is not as solid as he would have others believe, having his job threatened based on daily decisions. He attempts to set himself up as detached, but again, in his confrontation of Naturelle, we see that he blames himself for not speaking up and trying to stop Monty. His scene towards the end, where Monty asks him to make him ugly, reveals that he's a better friend than perhaps he wants to be. We see that it hurts him very much to beat on his friend, and we wonder if Frank didn't get hurt more than Monty.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jacob, is in a different world than Frank and Monty. He's never had to worry about making money, so teaches English to make up for this. Jacob is socially inept and constantly awkward even with his closest friends. He's clearly struggling with many different issues, although his attraction to his student is the most crucial for this film. Jacob has a different sense of reality than his friends, even the idea of prison is strange to him, as we see when he suggests that Monty should be able to bring his dog to prison with him. He has a poor self image and feels inferior around most people, especially guys like Monty and Frank. His problems could well be as big as Monty's, as we see when he kisses his student in the club. Although we don't know the consequences of this action, one thing he has in common with Monty is the idea of consequence looming over him.

Brian Cox, while having limited screen time, is an immense presence in the film. His James Brogan has, as Monty puts it, "endless grief." We get that his character would gladly take all of the blame for Monty. He's not an infallible figure, and we know he, like everyone else, looked away from Monty's activity when it suited him, perhaps feeling he had no other choice. He knows what Monty has lived with growing up and while Monty won't blame his childhood for what he is, his Dad would be happy to let him, and ultimately he just wants things to be easier for his son. The ending of the film is one of the most touching sequences I can recall. Cox's narration is like a lullaby, and we know that all Monty has to do is say the word and maybe this other life can happen. The tragedy is that Monty knows he can't blame anyone but himself for where he is, and as a result he knows he can't get away and he won't say the word. Maybe it's a victory, but its a hard and painful one. As Cox points out when Monty tells him it would be "easier" to let him walk away. "My God, you don't understand." Their lives are tied together, "easier" isn't possible.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is watching the friends interact with each other. As Jacob points out, he and Frank are his "friends of the past." As a result they know things about each other that they never discuss. Frank is able to needle Jacob about his trust fund. Monty is able to point out how Frank looks at Naturelle, Jacob can reveal uncomfortable secrets, but they all remain friends. Their interaction with each other reveals more about themselves than they would like, most notably in the one on one moments they have with each other. Monty can only admit to Frank that he doesn't think he'll make it, and Frank in turn reveals that he cares a lot more than he lets on, trying his best to encourage him, even though we know a part of him knows this is the end. Monty treats Jacob like a little brother, knowing he has a very fragile ego. Naturelle will always be an outsider in their group, and it becomes clear that Monty is not the only one who is suspicious of her, although Frank's reasons for accusing her are likely more complicated than he lets on. As we see in the scene when Monty pushes Frank into beating him, the understandings that they have with each other are delicate things and a big part of friendship is not saying everything you can even though you may know it's true. They trust each other with great knowledge, knowing that one thought or inclination does not necessarily define them.

Spike Lee gives us an amazing and complicated piece, which at the same time seems very simple because it moves so clearly.While the movie clearly reflects the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, it's not limited by this. He shows us a city and a life that moves on in the shadow of many larger forces, where lives can be easily lost at any time and people can easily go astray without even realizing it until it's too late. No matter the tragedy, lives continue and people do what they think they should do (or not.) The city footage is amazing, particularly the opening with a look at the light towers against the city. A sense of the inevitable hangs over the film. At the opening, its already too late, for the towers, and for Monty, but of the three choices that Monty has, he chooses prison, because as doomed as he is, he can still hope like Jacob and Frank propose that there is something afterwards. The techniques Lee uses are masterful, like the mirror narration, illustrated by action in the background, (in contrast to the smiling faces Monty sees when they start the drive to prison) His father's narration at the end, where we're shown a life that maybe could've happened. It reminds us what a movie can do with some skill and imagination behind it.

Here we have a story where people are not black and white, they have many motivations and justifications, and often do the absolute wrong thing. Monty is a likable, but not an admirable character. In the course of his final day of freedom, he does manage to look at himself more honestly than he has in many years. He takes an inventory and finds he had a lot more in his life than he realized, and finally taking responsibility for himself, he hopes to have something again. The focus he gains from what hangs over him, gives him a look at his life he would probably not have seen under normal circumstances. What prison does to him is a bleak unknown, and not really the point of the movie. This is a film about the clarity that comes from knowing you can't escape what awaits you. In the brilliant ending we're left with the knowledge that people will keep hoping for a better alternative right until the very end. It's so tempting to hope that they're following that plan, taking a left turn and starting a new life. When you realize you're hoping this for a drug dealer who earned his sentence, you've arrived at the heart of the puzzle, and the idea that people have more to them than the mistakes they've made. We, like Monty, can sit with the fact that he is responsible for his actions, but still see it as a tragedy that a whole life is being thrown away.

What Happens?

We find Monty Brogan stopping his car by the side of the road to check on a dog who has been badly beaten and left for dead. Initially he asks his Russian associate to lend him his gun to put an end to the dog's pain. His associate, Kostya (Tony Siragusa,) doesn't like this idea and reminds Monty that they're late for an appointment. Monty says "They're used to waiting." He bends down to take a closer look and the dog snarls, napping at him. Monty jumps back and then laughs, seemingly amused at the surprise. He remarks "He's got a lot of fight left in him, huh?" Kostya is still concerned about the police showing up, but Monty is determined to do something. He says "Come on man, they used him like a fucking ashtray. What a bunch of assholes." He suggests that they put him in the trunk and bring him to a nearby vet emergency room. Still dealing with resistance, he cajoles, "Come on. I like this guy."

Russian: He tries to bite your face off. He is mean! You want dog, I buy you nice puppy tomorrow.
Monty: What the fuck I want with a puppy, Kostya?
Monty takes a jacket from the trunk to pick up the dog without getting bitten. The dog gives a struggle however and manages to bite Monty in the neck while being wrestled into the trunk. Kostya points this out and Monty says "Just a little love bite for saving his raggedy ass." Kostya berates Monty, telling him he's bad luck. He claims that Monty is bringing them "Doyle's Law." Monty corrects him and tells him he means "Murphy's Law, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."

We then move to the opening credits, and the elegant score kicks in over a look at NYC at night, specifically looking at the light towers that were up as a Memorial to the fallen World Trade Towers post 9/11, taking different views of the city with the light towers staying central. We then switch to the city in the daytime where we find a slightly older Monty sitting on a bench with his now healed dog (now named Doyle) on a leash. He's approached by a man named Simon (Tony Diomede,) who is looking for drugs. Monty tells him. "I'm out of business, Simon. Take your jones somewhere else. leave me alone." Simon gets angry, mentioning being Monty's customer for five years, but Monty doesn't bend, finally telling him "Get the fuck out of here." Monty takes Doyle on a walk through the city, stopping to drop some money to a homeless man asleep on the street. He passes several flags hung down for 9/11 remembrance and makes his way to a Coventry Preparatory School. Inside the school, he looks at an old photo of the school basketball team, seeing his younger self in the photo. A teacher stops to ask him to leave the building, as there are no dogs allowed. He agrees but points himself out to her, citing a record he set. She informs him that it was broken last year. He says "Well, we were undefeated that year. Then I got kicked off the team for fighting and the whole thing fell apart." He then asks the teacher to point him to Jacob Elinsky, telling her he's an old friend.

We move to a classroom where a student, Mary D'Annunzio (Anna Paquin) is reading "To His Coy Mistress" from Norton's Poetry Anthology. The teacher, Jacob Elinsky, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) compliments her on the reading and asks the class for responses. After no one takes the initiative, Mary points out "It's not real deep or anything. He wants to get laid and he's telling her to give it up." The class giggles and Jacob gets up, noticing Monty at the door. He asks Jacob to meet up with him later and Jacob agrees. Monty whispers that the girl in the red shirt (Mary) is cute. As Jacob sits down, the bell rings. He sighs and sits by himself. Mary comes to see him in the teacher's lounge after class. She wants to know why she got a B- on a paper, when "no one else in that class can write." She points out a lackluster paper about someone's grandmother dying that got an A+ as an example that his grading isn't fair. Jacob tells her her grade will be fine and then asks her what her mother said when she got her belly tattoo. She asks him why he cares so much, and finally storms out after he says he won't change the grade. Jacob calls his friend Frank Slaughtery (Barry Pepper) to discuss meeting up for Monty's going away party. Frank is busy working for Zimmer Investment Bank, and can't talk, agreeing to call later.

Frank's boss asks him about 100 million dollars in contracts he's holding, as it "makes him uncomfortable."  Frank insists that he has a theory which relies on a lower unemployment number than predicted, but his boss isn't interested. He orders Frank to sell half the contracts. Another employee hands Frank a memo on Solomon Brothers' prediction for the unemployment figures, (a high number) but Frank throws it away, saying "Fuck Solomon Brothers." He then tells the underling that his striped shirt and striped tie make him look like an optical illusion. Another coworker points out that he doesn't see Frank picking up the phone to sell the contracts like he was ordered to. His boss yells to make sure Frank's alright, as the number is about to be announced. Frank waves signalling that he's fine. The number is announced and it's lower than predicted, making Frank very happy.

Monty next walks over to see his girlfriend, Naturelle Rivera (Rosario Dawson) She tells him she's been sitting on the stoop all day waiting for him. She asks him to talk to her about how he feels and then not getting much of answer she asks "What do you want?" Monty tells her "I want to be like that girl in the X-Men who can walk through walls. If I can't do that, one shot in the head, boom." Monty sits down and we see in their apartment is a movie poster for "Cool Hand Luke." Naturelle tells him "Don't joke about that." and Monty answers "Who says I'm joking?"
Naturelle: So what are we doing tonight? Before you kill yourself, that is.
Monty: Uncle Nikolai's throwing me a party down at Bridge. Figured we'd all head down there. [Naturelle gives him a disbelieving look] Oh, come on. I've got no choice.
Naturelle: I thought it was over with those guys.
Monty: It's almost over. It's never really over.
Naturelle suggests that they talk a bath together, but Monty declines. He remembers a bath they took together in the past which was interrupted by a knock on the door. Naturelle answers to find DEA Agents with a warrant to search the place. While Monty and Naturelle watch, they look through apartment. One of them, Agent Flood (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) sits down on the couch and keeps commenting about how uncomfortable it is. He finally unzips the cushions and finds a large quantity of drugs hidden inside them. The agent tells Monty "Mr. Brogan, I do believe you're fucked."

Back in the present, Monty asks Naturelle to wear her silver dress tonight, as that's how he wants to remember her. Leaving the apartment, he finds Kostya waiting for him. Monty tells him he could've called but Kostya tells him he isn't answering his phone. He tells Monty that Uncle Nikolai wants to be sure he's at the party. Monty assures him that he'll be there and mentions he's bringing friends, including Naturelle. Kostya doesn't like that idea, and says it'll make Uncle Nikolai uncomfortable. Monty tells him "I already told him. It wasn't her." Kostya suggests reasons she may have had to inform on him, but Monty debunks them. Finally, Kosya asks "Did you ask her?"
Monty: No, I didn't ask her.
Kostya: Listen, before you leave, you should know.

Later on, we see Monty having dinner with his father, James Brogan (Brian Cox) at "Brogan's" which is clearly a firefighter's bar, as there is firefighter memorabilia throughout the place, including 9/11 memorials. Monty compliments his father on the bar, which is his place. His Dad mentions he's talked to some people. but Monty tells him to stay out of it. His father reminds him he'll still be a young man when he gets out. He tells Monty, "This should never have happened. You could've done anything you wanted, doctor, lawyer.."
Monty: Don't lay that on me. When Sal and his crew were squeezing you for the payments, I didn't hear you wishing I was a law school student then. I won one from you back then. Where did you think that money was coming from? Donald Trump?
James: That was a mistake.
Monty: Well, let's just forget it then.
James: There were lots of mistakes. I should've stopped drinking when your mother passed. 11 year old boy        with a dead mother and a drunk father...I got no one to blame but myself...
Monty: Stop...It wasn't you, Pop.
Monty excuses himself and goes to the restroom, where he looks at himself in the mirror. which has "Fuck You." written in the bottom corner. He reads it and says "Fuck you too." His reflection answers him, (while we see a tour of his descriptions)

"Fuck me? Fuck you. Fuck you and this whole city and everyone in it. Fuck the panhandlers, grubbing for money, and smiling at me behind my back. Fuck the squeegee men dirtying up the clean windshield of my car. Get a fucking job! Fuck the Sikhs and the Pakistanis bombing down the avenues in decrepit cabs, curry steaming out their pores stinking up my day, terrorists in fucking training. Slow the fuck down! Fuck the Chelsea boys with their waxed chests and pumped-up biceps, going down on each other in my parks and on my piers, jingling their dicks on my Channel 35. Fuck the Korean grocers with their pyramids of overpriced fruit and their tulips and roses wrapped in plastic. Ten years in the country, still no speaky English? Fuck the Russians in Brighton Beach, mobster thugs sitting in caf├ęs, sipping tea in little glasses, sugar cubes between their teeth. Wheelin' and dealin' and schemin'. Go back where you fucking came from! Fuck the black-hatted Hasidim, strolling up and down 47th street in their dirty gabardine with their dandruff, selling South African apartheid diamonds! Fuck the Wall Street brokers, self-styled masters of the universe. Michael Douglas, Gordon Gekko wannabe mother fuckers, figuring out new ways to rob hard working people blind. Send those Enron assholes to jail for fucking life! You think Bush and Cheney didn't know about that shit? Give me a fucking break! Tyco! Worldcom! Fuck the Puerto Ricans. Twenty to a car, swelling up the welfare rolls, worst fuckin' parade in the city. And don't even get me started on the Dom-in-i-cans, 'cause they make the Puerto Ricans look good. Fuck the Bensonhurst Italians with their pomaded hair, their nylon warm-up suits, their St. Anthony medallions, swinging their Jason Giambi Louisville Slugger baseball bats, trying to audition for "The Sopranos." Fuck the Upper East Side wives with their Hermes scarves and their fifty-dollar Balducci artichokes, overfed faces getting pulled and lifted and stretched, all taut and shiny. You're not fooling anybody, sweetheart! Fuck the uptown brothers. They never pass the ball, they don't want to play defense, they take five steps on every lay-up to the hoop. And then they want to turn around and blame everything on the white man. Slavery ended one hundred and thirty seven years ago. Move the fuck on! Fuck the corrupt cops with their anus violating plungers and their 41 shots, standing behind a blue wall of silence. You betray our trust! Fuck the priests who put their hands down some innocent child's pants. Fuck the church that protects them, delivering us into evil. And while you're at it, fuck J.C.! He got off easy! A day on the cross, a weekend in hell, and all the hallelujahs of the legioned angels for eternity! Try seven years in fuckin' Otisville, J.! Fuck Osama Bin Laden, al Qaeda, and backward-ass cave dwelling fundamentalist assholes everywhere. On the names of innocent thousands murdered, I pray you spend the rest of eternity with your seventy two whores roasting in a jet-fuel fire in hell. You towel headed camel jockeys can kiss my royal Irish ass! Fuck Jacob Elinsky, whining malcontent. Fuck Francis Xavier Slaughtery my best friend, judging me while he stares at my girlfriend's ass. Fuck Naturelle Riviera, I gave her my trust and she stabbed me in the back, sold me up the river, fucking bitch. Fuck my father with his endless grief, standing behind that bar sipping on club sodas, selling whisky to firemen, and cheering the Bronx Bombers. Fuck this whole city and everyone in it. From the row-houses of Astoria to the penthouses on Park Avenue, from the projects in the Bronx to the lofts in Soho. From the tenements in Alphabet City to the brownstones in Park Slope to the split levels in Staten Island. Let an earthquake crumble it, let the fires rage, let it burn to fucking ash and then let the waters rise and submerge this whole rat-infested place."

The Monty not inside the mirror, thinks a moment and says "No. No, fuck you Montgomery Brogan. You had it all and you threw it away, you dumb fuck! " 
Returning to the table with his father, he asks his Dad what he thinks of Naturelle. His Dad replies "She's a good girl. Your mother would've liked her." Monty asks, "Do you think I can trust her?
James: Where you going with this?
Monty:  I don't know. people are saying weird things. I'm hearing stuff around, like maybe she was the one that made the phone call on me.
James: Why would she do a thing like that?
Monty: Maybe they got to her, you know? It happens. They put the screws on you.
James: The girl loves you, Monty. I can't believe she would betray you.
Monty: I don't know. Everything's gotten so strange. These people around me, I'm thinking, these are my friends? I don't even know these people. And Naturelle, do I really know her? The only people I trust are, you, Jacob, and Frank, guys I grew up with.
James: I miss those boys.
Monty: Yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be meeting them. They're waiting for me. I oughtta get going. His Dad tells him to meet him in the morning and he'll drive him to prison, rather than have him take the bus. He gives Monty a picture of him as a little boy in a fireman's hat, with his Mom and Dad. 

At Frak Slaughtery's place, we see Jacob Elinsky arrive. The two of them look out Frank's window and Jacob says "Jesus Christ." getting a look right at ground zero for the World Trade Centers. Jacob says "The New York Times says the air is bad down there." Frank says "Yeah? Well fuck the Times, I read the Post. E.P.A. says it's fine." Jacob says "Somebody's lying." and Frank laughs.
Jacob: You gonna move?
Frank: Fuck that, man. As much good money as I pay for this place? Tell you what, Bin Laden can drop another one right next door. I ain't moving.
Jacob: What do we say to him?
Frank: Don't say nothing. He's going to hell for seven years. What are we gonna do? Wish him luck? Just get him drunk, make sure he has one last good night. That's it.
Jacob: So, you're up for this?
Frank: Yeah
Jacob: I don't even know why he invited me.
Frank: What are you talking about?
Jacob: We hardly ever see each other anymore. You know, you and I are his friends from the past.
Frank: Oh yeah, like his friends from the present have done him much good.
Jacob: I just can't believe he's going away for seven years. Someone turned him in, and...
Frank: Don't feed me that shit. Yeah, he got caught, but hello, Monty's a drug dealer. What, are you driving a vintage Super B? 
Jacob: No.
Frank: No, he is. Paid for by the misery of other people. He got caught. He's gonna get locked up. I'll tell you something else. You two are my best friends in the whole world, and I love him like a brother, but he fucking deserves it.
They discuss what Monty's planning to do with Doyle, agreeing it would be nice if they let him keep the dog with him. Jacob suggests that Monty's tough and he'll do ok in there, but Frank disagrees telling him "Guys that look like Monty don't do well in prison. Man, he's got three choices, none of them good; one, he can run, two, catch the bullet train. His third choice, he goes to prison, that's it."
Jacob: Yeah. and that's what he's gonna do. He'll go and I'll see him when he gets out.
Frank: Maybe, I'll tell you what. After tonight, it's bye bye, Monty.
Jacob: What does that mean?
Frank: Well, if he runs, he's gone. He ain't coming home. If he pulls the trigger, they close the casket, he's gone. They lock him away, he's gone. You'll never see him again.
Jacob insists that he'll visit him and he will see him, but Frank argues that he won't.

We then flashback to Monty in custody of the DEA. He sits in an interrogation room, and watches as they release Naturelle. Agent Flood comes in to talk to him. Monty gives him  a dirty look when he talks about Naturelle. This causes Flood to make fun of him. He suggests that Naturelle gave him up, pointing out that she's walking away. Another of the agents, Cunningham adds "She's a real smart girl. You' on the other hand..."
Flood: You're supposed to be smart. Got yourself a scholarship to a fancy private school. Not bad for a punk from Bay Ridge.
Cunningham: But then you go and get yourself thrown out for dealing weed to some rich kids. What happened there?
Flood: You know what happens to pretty boys like you in prison?
Cunningham: They gonna love you.
Monty says "Maybe, Maybe not" and shows them a convincing plea he could try with the judge.
Flood: You don't read the papers much, do you, smart guy? In NY, we've got a wonderful thing called the Rockefeller law. Let me educate you. You had a kilo in your sofa. That kind of weight makes it an A-1 felony, 15 years to life, minimum, first offense. Now, with that much spread in the sentencing guidelines, the judges take their cue from the prosecutor. So if the prosecutor's wife busted his chops that night, you're fucked, you're gone for good. If you get lucky, really lucky. Let's say he got some good trim the night before, maybe he'll plead you off to an A-2, but that's still 3-8 for first time, minimum. How much of that stretch you pull is all up to the mood of the prosecutor. And he's gonna ask us, "Did he play ball?" So...why don't you tell us about your friend Nikolai?
Monty: Can I ask you one question? [looks at Cunningham]
Cunningham: Sure
Monty: When you have your dick in his mouth, [pointing to Flood] does he just keep talking like that? Because it seems to me, he just never shuts up. And I'm just curious, does that get annoying? You know, you're fucking a guy in the mouth and he just...won't shut up.
Cunningham: [laughing] Look here you vanilla motherfucker, when you're upstate, taking it in the Culo by a bunch of guys calling you Shirley, you'll only have yourself and Governor Rockefeller to thank for the privilege. They leave him.

We find Frank and Jacob having Dinner at a restaurant. Frank tells Jacob he needs a girlfriend, and tells him for NY bachelors, Jacob is in the 62 percentile. He adds that he himself is in the 99 percentile. Frank tells him that he came up with the ratings. Jacob challenges his system and they discuss the classifications. Jacob suggests that Frank doesn't know how to behave in the real world. Frank accuses Jacob of feeling guilty for being born into wealth. 

Monty recalls meeting Naturelle, who is talking with a friend on swingsets while Monty makes an exchange with Simon (dressed nicely and looking much better than in the beginning) nearby. Monty interrupts their conversation to ask for a lighter. Naturelle's friend remembers seeing Monty before and leaves, urging Naturelle to come along. She chooses to stay and talk with Monty. He establishes that she's 18, and asks if he can come see her play basketball sometime.

We catch up with Frank and Jacob at a bar. Frank tells Jacob he's got a girl he wants him to meet. Jacob tells Frank "One of the teachers at school, this biology teacher, Terry. He really likes this girl. 
Frank: A student?
Jacob: A student. A junior.
Frank: Oh man...
Jacob: I mean, the girl's sixteen, seventeen maybe, I don't know. She's not really pretty, not in the classical sense, but she, I don't know, she's got something. And I told him, I told Terry he oughtta just forget about it. But, he's obsessing, it's kinda scary the way he talks about it. But, he's like "Five years from now, she'll almost be out of college and I'll be 36. Nothing wrong with that, you know" 
Frank: You haven't fucked her yet, have you?
Jacob: No, I'm sorry. Were you listening to what I just said? No, I haven't fucked her.
Frank: That's good, because, big mistake.
Jacob: I mean, I'm not a pervert.
Frank: You know what a man should never ask in a Victoria's secret shop. Jake?
Jacob: What?
Frank: Does this come in children's sizes?

Naturelle shows up at the bar and hugs Frank and Jacob. Frank takes the opportunity to talk about women with Naturelle. Monty arrives shortly afterwards. The bartender creates an awkward moment suggesting they come to her birthday party on Sunday. The four of them take a car to Nikolai's club, where there's a long line waiting to get in. The doorman tells Monty and his crew to go in the back. As they walk Mary (Jacob's student) spots him and calls out. She's surprised to see him outside of school, but quickly asks if he can get her in. She asks Jacob if he's a fan of "Dusk" the DJ at the club, and he claims that he is. Monty comes to get Jacob, and Mary makes Monty laugh, by claiming she and Jacob are lovers. He tells her he'll get her in the club but not her three friends. They get a table inside and Mary starts asking question. Monty tells her to lay off and have some champagne. He then makes a toast "Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends." Mary drink her glass down in one gulp. and Monty asks "You like that?" Mary says "Yep." Mary suggests they dance and Naturelle goes with her. Frank quickly follows a waitress to check on some whiskey, leaving Monty and Jacob alone.
Jacob: I can't believe you brought my student in here.
Monty: Oh, come on. She's cute. She is. She talks a little bit too much, but she's cute.
Jacob: You're gonna get me fired. Do you realize that? She's gonna tell her friends and they're gonna tell their friends...
Monty: What are they gonna say? Just say you met her in a club. You ran into her. You talked a little bit. Seriously, you haven't done anything wrong yet.
Jacob: What do you mean, yet?
Monty: She's hot. She's all over you.
Jacob: She's 17. She's my student. I can't touch her.
Monty: Not now, but in seven months, she'll be the age Naturelle was when I met her. Like I said, not yet, you know...
Jacob: Okay!
Monty: Look, I'm kidding. I'm giving you a hard time. You're smart. You're way too smart for that shit. Really, you've always been smart about that stuff. I respect that. I really do.
Monty asks Jacob to make him a toast, since he won't see him for a long time.
Jacob has trouble thinking of what to say, and Monty tells him to relax and makes a toast himself "To Doyle." he adds "your dog now..." Jacob protests but Monty tries to talk him into it. He tells Jacob "Saving him, I swear to God, the best thing I ever did in my life was save that little son of a bitch, cause every day he's had since then that's all because of me." Jacob finally agrees. Frank gets back to the table and asks about the student. Monty tells Frank to leave him alone, as he's "the only honest man in the room." Kostya joins them, and tells Monty he has a girl for him, but Monty declines. Monty tells Kostya he needs five minutes to talk to Frank and then he'll see Nikolai. Frank and Monty talk in private. Monty tells Frank that he'd planned to bring him his money before he got busted. He tells him that he doesn't think he's going to make it. Frank tries to reassure him, but Monty doesn't buy it, detailing how little his prospects will be when he gets out. Frank tells him that when he gets out they'll open a bar together. Monty tells him he has one idea to make things easier and he needs a big favor from Frank. 

Mary takes a break from dancing and stops at the table to see Jacob (who is sleeping.) She gets on his lap and starts dancing. He panics and she moves. She tells him she's drunk and had some E earlier. Jacob asks her if it's possible that they don't talk about this at school. Mary responds "Do you think it would be possible  to give me an A for this semester?"
Jacob: Tell me you're joking.
Mary: I'm joking.
Jacob asks what her mother thinks about her being out this late, but Mary says she doesn't care. She leaves to go to the bathroom. Jacob watches her leave and then follows her. He knocks on the door and she lets him in. He closes the door on them and kisses her. He steps back and she just stares at him. He leaves the room, but Mary just stands there stunned.

Naturelle approaches Frank and asks him to keep an eye on Monty, so he doesn't hurt himself. Naturelle tells Frank he's been looking at her funny, like he doesn't trust her. Frank then tells Naturelle that he's never said a word to help Monte, from when he was first selling weed. He tells her that she watched him throw it all away too, and mentions all the nice things Monty bought her. despite telling him to quit. Frank tells her "I never took his money." He continues "All I'm saying is you know where he hid the money. You knew where he hid the drugs, didn't you?"
Naturelle: What the hell are you saying right now, Francis?
Frank: You know exactly what I'm saying. I told Monty when he first met you, but he wouldn't listen to me. I told him, Naturelle Riviera, she ain't nothing but a spic skank skeezer. [she slaps him and leaves]
Jacob approaches Frank as she leaves.He asks Frank "Can we get out of here?" Frank tells him they have to wait for Monty. He tells Frank "I kissed her."
Frank: What?
Jacob: My student. I kissed her.
Frank: Who you trying to be? R. Kelly?
Jacob: I kissed my 17 year old high school student.
Frank: Jake, have a drink, shut the fuck up.
Jacob asks for a water, but Frank insists that he have a whisky.

Monty is escorted to the backroom to see Nikolai. Nikolai (Levan Uchaneishvili) tells him "The first time I went to prison I was fourteen years old. Skinny little boy, very afraid. By the time I came out, I had a beard. I was a grown man. I went back to my hometown. I found my mother. I kissed her and she screamed. She did not recognize me. I have been in three different prisons, three different countries, and you know what I learned? I learned, prison is a bad place to be. [raises a shot glass and drinks] Seven years is a long time. Some men would do anything to avoid seven years in prison." One of Nikolai's men mentions Monty's father's bar, noting the address and the route his father drives to work. Nikolai starts talking about his family as well. Monty speaks up. "You don't have to do this. I didn't say anything to anybody.
Nikolai: I asked you a question, Montgomery.
Monty: Yeah, I understand exactly what you mean.
Nikolai: I have a good job for your father. We'll help him with the money he owes.
Monty: No thank you.
Nikolai picks up a gun and says "Good weapon. Accurate. And reliable, no jams. Have you ever fired a gun?
Monty: No.
Nikolai: It's a toy for you. A prop, like an actor. Am I wrong? With the gun, you feel more...dangerous.
Monty: I wouldn't know. It's not mine. [Nikolai cocks the gun]
Monty: I never said anything. I swear to God. They came after me to get to you. I know that. You know that. They tried. I never said anything.
Nikolai: I believe you, Montgomery. This is my advice to you. When you get there, figure out who's who. Find the man nobody's protecting, a man without friends, and beat him until his eyes bleed. Let them think you are a little bit crazy, but respectful too, respectful of the right men. You're a good looking boy. It won't be easy for you. But remember, I was 14 when I first went, I tattooed "survive" on my hand the night before I went away to prison, and I did. We do what we have to do to survive.

Nikolai says something in Russian, and his men start beating on Kostya. Nikolai tells Monty that Kostya sold him out and hands him the gun. Monty asks why Kostya let him believe it was Naturelle. Kostya says "I had no choice." Nikolai prods Monty to kill Kostya, but he puts the gun down, saying "You told me to trust this man, I trusted this man, now I'm gone seven. Clean up your own fucking mess. You do whatever you want with him. When I walk out this door, I'm done. I'm out and my father's out."
Nikolai: You are being foolish.
Monty: You gonna let me go or not?
Nikolai: Remember what I told you, a man with no friends.
They let Monty go and continue beating Kostya. Monty drives Frank and Jacob back to his place. He finds Naturelle already there and sleeping. He apologizes to her and explains that he'd been thinking it was her.
Naturelle: It doesn't matter.
Monty: It matters to me. I don't want you to hate me when I'm gone.
Naturelle: I could never hate you, Montgomery. I love you.
He tells her he has one last thing to do but he'll be back. We see Monty, Frank and Jacob walking. They see a passing tug boat and muse over his life, before Monty checks the time, finding it's 6 AM. He gives Jacob  Doyle's leash and tells him "The leash is yours." He then tells Frank "I need you to make me ugly.It's all about the first day, if they get one look at me looking like this, it's finished." Frank declines, but Monty pushes him, saying he thinks he wants to hit him in a way. He implies that Frank is planning to move in on Naturelle when he's gone. He succeeds in goading Frank until he gives in and beats him badly. Frank is clearly distraught afterwards, but Monty reassures him, before leaving the two of them to walk home. Naturelle panics seeing him all bloody and helps him inside. She cleans up his wounds and tells him she'll wait for him "as long as it takes." He tells her "Naturelle, I blew it. I really blew it." His father knocks on the door, and asks him who beat him up. He tells his Dad he wants to say goodbye there. 
Monty: It'll be easier. Just let me walk away.
James: Easier? My God, you don't understand. Let me drive you there. I need to know where it is, for visits, you know? Okay? Buddy? Help me out?
Monty agrees. Naturelle gives him some ice to bring with him. He tells her "I don't want you coming to visit me. I want you to be happy so I want you to forget me and live your life." He dumps the ice once he's outside the apartment and gets in the car with his Dad. We see Jacob with Doyle getting a compliment on the dog. We then see Monty watching NY pass by. He tells Monty, "Say the word and we'll take a left turn."  Monty tells him they'll find him. His Dad starts talking and we see what he describes in the background.
"You know how they find people? They find them when they come home. People run away but they usually come back and that's when they get caught. So, you go and you never come back. You never come home.
We'll drive. Keep driving. Head out to the middle of nowhere, take that road as far as it takes us. You've never been west of Philly, have ya? This is a beautiful country. Monty, it's beautiful out there, looks like a different world; mountains, hills, cows, farms, and white churches. I drove out west with your mother one time, before you was born, Brooklyn to the Pacific in three days. Just enough money for gas, sandwiches, and coffee, but we made it. Every man, woman, and child alive should see the desert one time before they die. Nothin' at all for miles around. Nothin' but sand and rocks and cactus and blue sky. Not a soul in sight. No sirens. No car alarms. Nobody honkin' at you. No madmen cursin' or pissin' in the streets. You find the silence out there, you find the peace. You can find God. So we drive west, keep driving till we find a nice little town. These towns out in the desert, you know why they got there? People wanted to get way from somewhere else. The desert's for startin' over. Find a bar and I'll buy us drinks. I haven't had a drink in two years, but I'll have one with you, one last whisky with my boy. Take our time with it, taste the barley, let it linger. And then I'll go. I'll tell you don't ever write me, don't ever come visit. I'll tell you I believe in God's kingdom and I'll see you and your mother again, but not in this lifetime. You get a job somewhere, a job that pays cash, a boss who doesn't ask questions, and you make a new life and you never come back. Monty, people like you, it's a gift, you make friends wherever you go. You're going to work hard, you're going to keep your head down and your mouth shut. You're going to make yourself a new home out there. You're a New Yorker, that won't ever change. You got New York in your bones. Spend the rest of your life out west but you're still a New Yorker. You'll miss your friends, you'll miss your dog, but you're strong. You got your mother's backbone in you. You're strong like she was. You find the right people, and you get yourself papers, a driver's license. You forget your old life. You can't come back, you can't call, you can't write. You never look back. You make a new life for yourself and you live it, you hear me? You live your live the way it should have been. But maybe, this is dangerous, but maybe after a few years you send word to Naturelle. You get yourself a new family and you raise them right, you hear me? Give them a good life, Monty. Give them what they need. You have a son, maybe you name him James, it's a good strong name, and maybe one day years from now years after I'm dead and gone reunited with your dear Ma, you gather your whole family around and tell them the truth, who you are, where you come from, you tell them the whole story. Then you ask them if they know how lucky there are to be there. It all came so close to never happening. This life came so close to never happening." 

We see Monty asleep in the car as his father drives.


Anonymous said...

Nice piece! I love this movie, Brent! It IS an "amazing and complicated piece"... its definitely not an easy movie, it'll sit with you for awhile.

They people ARENT Black and White. The situation isn't either... you'd assume that it would be a hopeless one, but I've always found Monty's "Coming to terms" to be a healing thing for him... he's heading in to jail a better person. That's hopeful.

It is a great flick, and CRIMINALLY underrated. Glad to see you giving it some love! :D

INDBrent said...

Thanks for reading and stopping in to comment. it surprises me that more people don't know about this one. I totally agree that it "sits with you" after watching it. Its real strength is the rounded characters. I'm sure we all know people like Monty, although hopefully not as drastic. I think it does have a lot of hope in it, as much as you could expect from someone with one last day of preparation. He does all that he can.

Anonymous said...

I love Spike Lee and this is a good movie, as you said, much more complexity than meets the eye.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Sweepy. Spike Lee has a talent for showing the big picture of the situation, and his characters are always so fascinating.

Anonymous said...

This is a sweeping tale of morality, friendship, family. One of my favorite Ed Norton performances, one of my favorite Phillip Seymour-Hoffman performances (and I like nearly everything he does). Brian Cox, fantastic. Great writing from Spike, I like the way it's filmed the "look" it has. I, like you, am surprised more people don't know about this film. One of the best last 15 minutes, too. ~ Mark