In the 25th Hour, the character played by Ed Norton has 24 hours before he must begin his seven-year sentence for drug dealing. As the time nears, he engages in a long and scathing rant against every group of human beings he can identify, each ethnic group, religious faith, and each social class in New York City’s vast and diverse population before he realizes they are not responsible for who he is or what he has done. Norton is the central character in Spike Lee’s post 9-11 masterpiece, but we get a serious look at a trust-fund high school teacher who is torn by fear more than principle in his desire for a street-wise, underage, needy student. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the repressed professor, one of Norton’s best friends. Norton’s other close friend is a successful and ethically challenged Wall Street trader, who sees fit to judge others’ ethical behavior. Barry Pepper gives us a preview of his future role playing a real-life sleaze in Casino Jack. The underrated Brian Cox plays Norton’s father, whose life has been inadvertently put in jeopardy by his son’s actions. Rosario Dawson, Norton’s girlfriend, completes the superb ensemble cast who examine taking responsibility for one’s actions with regard to others, those close to you as well as the larger society in which you live. The 2002 film was based on the book of the same name by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay.
Most films, even many of the good ones, eventually fade away. Some films, much like the 25th Hour gain respect and audiences as time passes. The Shawshank Redemption is one that while it was highly regarded by critics in 1994 when it was first released, it didn’t do well at the box office. Since then it has continued to garner praise and viewership, doing very well on cable and especially well on DVD 18 years later.
Based on a novella by Stephen King, called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, it made it to the big screen with Tim Robbins as a banker convicted of his wife’s murder and Morgan Freeman as the banker’s new prison buddy. The film, released in 1994, is not fast-paced; but it is solid gold. As a companion piece to the 25th Hour, we must again think about what it means to lock someone away for years and years. What does this do to a human being? Without being a “bleeding heart,” and clearly understanding that dangerous people need to be separated from society, the prison system, then and now, can and often is our democracy’s dirty, little secret.
In this case, we witness a man who has done no wrong on the outside, switches sides, it appears, on the inside. And we witness a man, played by the incomparable James Whitmore, who has spent 50 years on the inside try to adjust to the unfamiliar world outside. The Shawhank Redemption is about freedom and hope in the most confining and hopeless conditions. However, it is not schmaltzy. The film reminds us how difficult holding on to hope can be.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Recommending something to sip while watching these two intense films is difficult. For the 25th Hour, we can pick up on the “going away party” with champagne freely flowing. With The Shawshank Redemption, we might want to look at the great scene on the hot tar roof, where the convicts get an unusual gift, ice-cold bottles of “Bohemian” beer.