Further confirmation that sometimes, when Spike Lee does not write a movie indoctrinating viewers as to the racial dogma of a wealthy courtside-sitting Knicks fan, he can forego the lecture and make solid entertainment . See also Clockers and Inside Man.
Edward Norton is spending his last day and night in Manhattan before serving a 7 year stretch for drug distribution. He deals with the certainty of his impending brutalization and agonizes over the choices he made, all while saying his goodbyes to friends and family, reliable New York City archetypes to a one. His father, Brian Cox, is a former fireman (the film is a post- 9-11 story and it is reliant on that catastrophe) and now proprietor of an Irish tavern; his girlfriend, Rosario Dawson, a luscious Puerto Rican who had never been to Puerto Rico until Norton took her; his best friends are Barry Pepper (a tough, cynical, New York Post reading conservative trader) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (a tentative, caring, Jewish public school teacher who lives a meager, sheltered life and has a hidden trust fund). Anna Paquin is Hoffman’s vixen of student, all freedom and possibility, just on the edge of pregnancy and disease and the first steps to getting used up. Norton’s employers are Russian mobsters.
Norton’s choices are delicate and a man on the brink is a tough character to deliver. He does not sweat or ooze like so many would-be Brandos, but runs the emotional gamut (anger, recrimination, fear, acceptance) with authenticity. The story holds you, and Lee’s lyrical skills give the picture a haunting vibe. Solid watch.