- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Twenty years later, Hollywood is still unsure how best to address 9/11.
The attacks have inspired ultrarealistic reenactments (2006’s United 93), disaster movies (World Trade Center, also from 2006) and smaller-scale family dramas (2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), with varying success. The first studio film to incorporate the worst terrorist act in history did so out of sheer necessity. 25th Hour, which opened 15 months after the attacks, on Dec. 16, 2002, was a Spike Lee film from a script by David Benioff, based on his novel The 25th Hour.
In 2001, Benioff, who would go on to great commercial success as co-showrunner of HBO’s Game of Thrones, published his first book, about a convicted drug dealer’s last 24 hours of freedom before going to prison for seven years. It attracted attention; Lee was particularly drawn to one passage — known as “the fuck monologue” — in which the protagonist unleashes a racist and homophobic rant against the five boroughs of New York.
The Touchstone Pictures film had already been cast (Edward Norton as the drug dealer, Succession‘s Brian Cox as his dad, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as his childhood friend) and was in preproduction when the towers fell. Lee decided to weave the attacks into his film, finding that the somber mood in Manhattan complemented the already funereal material.
Sept. 11 is referred to only indirectly — a line about a fallen firefighter friend here, a mention of dangerous air quality there. For one long, haunting shot, set in a condo overlooking ground zero, Lee points his camera at the ashy footprints of the World Trade Center, at a tiny tractor dragging its teeth through the wreckage. A seemingly insurmountable amount of work still lay ahead.
The result is that 25th Hour is not so much a movie about 9/11 as it is a living, breathing document of that moment. It was an act of profound evil that changed the world, but it cut deepest for New Yorkers like Lee, whose most recent effort, the HBO docuseries NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½, explores the unique resiliency of the denizens of that city.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day