With Disney’s recent release of the two-volume, four-movie Spike Lee Joint Collection, three additional films from the prolific, occasionally controversial, director Spike Lee. Vol. 1 features the well written and performed, character study 25th Hour (2002) and the gripping He Got Game (1998), each of which are very different, but showcase some of Spike Lee’s best talents

25th Hour (2002)

Based on the novel by David Benioff who wrote the screenplay, The 25th Hour concerns Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) who in just twenty-four hours, will go to prison for seven years. Monyy and his family and friends realize, even if he does make it through his stretch, things will never be the same again. Knowing this, Monty is experiencing everything in a kind of heightened state; there’s not much he can do now but focus on the things that are important to him: his girlfriend, his father, his closest friends, and some unresolved business.

Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), Monty’s girl, is doing her best to be a support, but is feeling shut out. His best friends Jacob and Frank (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper), are sympathetic, but they are still free to live their lives as they wish. Monty’s father blames himself for drinking himself into so much debt he was forced to take “loans” from his son. However, Monty is a smart guy. He realizes his mistakes are his own. He was the one who got into drug dealing. He never should have stayed in the game so long, and he certainly shouldn’t have believed he could hide a large amount of cocaine and cash, tell somebody about it, and come away unscathed.

At first glance, The 25th Hour sounds like it could be nothing but two hours of overcooked sentimentality. Fortunately, Benioff’s screenplay gives all of the characters something interesting to do. Much of the screen time is dedicated to Monty’s friends, Jacob and Frank, and those scenes are arguably more interesting/telling than anything involving Monty. Hoffman and Pepper are excellent playing a teacher and a ruthless stockbroker. Monty is what keeps them grounded, and the glue that keeps the friends together. With him in jail, the two men will clearly be lost. The screenplay is so well formed that there could be a second film just about the lives of Jacob and frank; they’re drawn up that well. No matter what their plans, we all know that these people will never be all together again.

The 25th Hour is a great example of how good Spike Lee is with actors. The emphasis here is on the story and the characters, allowing Edward Norton and the rest of the main cast to deliver pitch perfect performances. Lee never allows himself to get bogged down by heavy special effects or CGI. What you get is what you see, and for my money, The 25th Hour is one of the best films of Spike Lee’s career thus far. Highly Recommended.

Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a huge step up from the DVD release, showing off significant detail. However, faithful to cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto’s intentions, things do have an overall gritty, grainy appearance. The rather bleached palette has been nicely preserved, and contrast is solid. The only issue I noticed was slight ringing, which was decidedly infrequent.

The DTS-HD Master Audio complements the film very well, despite being a tad front-heavy at times. Dialogue is always clear and club environments sound realistic. The soundfield is immersive and effective throughout.

English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentaries: Three audio commentaries are included, principal among them a newly recorded track with director Spike Lee and actor Edward Norton. The duo discuss the impact of 9/11 on the film, differences between screenwriter David Benioff’s original novel and his screen adaptation, casting and performances, the themes in the film, Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography, Terence Blanchard’s music and more. Two additional commentaries—a solo track with Lee and a second solo track with Benioff, both superb—have been ported over from the film’s DVD release.
  • The Evolution of an American Filmmaker (SD, 22:23) A look at Spike Lee’s career and the impact of his films. Cast members of The 25th Hour offer their thoughts, as do Martin Scorsese, Denzel Washington and others.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 10:18) Unnecessary scenes: “Sway,” “Little Odessa,” “Naturelle, Mom and Monty,” “Party Plans,” “Sneaking Mary In” and “Mary’s Death Scene.”
  • Ground Zero: A Tribute (SD, 5:33) The remains of the World Trade Center set to music.


He Got Game (1998)

Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) is in prison for the manslaughter of his wife. His son Jesus (NBA star Ray Allen) is the nation’s top basketball prospect. Jesus is trying to decide whether to go to college or head straight to the NBA. Meanwhile, Jake is released by the governor for a week, and if he can talk his son into signing a letter of intent to attend Big State University, the governor will reduce Jake’s sentence.

Jake is none too pleased to see his father (“I don’t have a father. Why is there a stranger in the house?”). He’s still very angry, though his sister Mary (Zelda Harris) has come to understand the whole story, and has been able to forgive their father. You can’t really blame the kid for reacting badly to the unexpected visit; he’s under tremendous pressure. Offers from various colleges are coming in daily. Even his girlfriend is in on the action, working with an agent (“He’s a friend of the family,” she says) who wants him to go pro.

Jake’s increasingly desperate attempts at reconciliation with his son continually hit a brick wall. The dynamic between them is poignant and realistic. You’re really watching two virtual strangers slowly come to understand each other on a deep, emotional level. The effectiveness of the scenes between father and son is due in large part to Denzel Washington’s abilities. He effectively displays both sides of Jake—the loving father, and the man who ruthlessly pushed his son to succeed and accidentally killed his wife. As Jesus, it’s obvious that NBA legend Ray Allen is no actor. While he does give one of the better performances in a movie by a pro athlete, his line delivery is a bit stilted at times. I will say though, having a pro basketball player in the role does add an air of authenticity to the story.

Beyond Washington and Allen, Lee filled out the film with a number of credible supporting performers. Zelda Harris is charming as Jesus’ little sister. Rosario Dawson is convincing as Jesus’ girlfriend. And Milla Jovovich is surprisingly compassionate as a down-on-her-luck prostitute who makes friends with Jake. The film includes cameos from the likes of Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, John Thompson, and Reggie Miller. Recommended.

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer offers up a fairly clear and sharp picture, but doesn’t offer much in the way of depth. Blacks are solid throughout, and colors pop when applicable. Flesh tones look fairly natural, while grain is minimal.

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a bit front heavy, but sounds very good. There’s some ambient sound, but the surrounds are never really given much of a workout in this dialogue heavy film. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.

English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary: A newly recorded audio commentary with director Spike Lee and actor Ray Allen. The two offer information and insight on the story, filming process, and more.