25th Hour

"25th Hour" is a version of "Friends" as "Friends" could hardly understand.

"25th Hour" is a version of "Friends" as "Friends" could hardly understand. Although Edward Norton's life alters forever when he enters prison tomorrow for drug possession, today he says goodbye to family and friends, assesses their value to his life, and asks one friend a favor to beat all favors.

His friends include Barry Pepper, an edgy stockbroker; Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an English teacher learning quickly from student Anna Paquin; and Rosario Dawson, his misunderstood lover. The men are all on the edge of antisocial behavior, Hoffman with his 16-year-old student and Pepper with his stock market. Only Dawson seems capable of surviving Norton's next seven years.

Director Spike Lee, veering away this time from his signature African-American centricity, has some literate moments such as when he has characters in a apartment talk in front of a window showing work on "Ground Zero," when he places a "Cool Hand Luke" poster behind Norton (Luke goes to prison as well), or when he frames a brutal sequence in a lovely tunnel arch looking into a park.

Norton's angry soliloquy about ethnic groups in New York can't help but remind of Robert De Niro's lonely lines to himself in "Taxi Driver" about the sewer he sees as New York. Lee is as good as Scorsese in directing these gifted actors.

The voice-over dream of Norton's bar-owner father, played by Brian Cox, that Norton escapes to a small town and raises a family, is a melancholy and lyric paean to America's lost innocence. While that dream may die, friends seem to offer a permanence not allowed to urban wrecks and drug-dealing.

As to the favor Norton asks of Pepper, see it to believe it, and remember what Alban Goodier said in "The School of Love": "Even from the best of human friends I must not ask for more than he can give."