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Spike Lee's best feature since Do the Right Thing. Though none of the major characters is black, it's one of Lee's most personal and deeply felt works, and the fact that it's based on someone else's material—David Benioff's adaptation of his novel—makes the film all the more impressive. The narrative follows a former drug dealer (Edward Norton) spending his last 24 hours in Manhattan before beginning a seven-year prison term, though it's also very much about the people closest to him: his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), two best friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and father (Brian Cox). The film persuades us to think long and hard about what prison means, and Lee has shaped it like a poem that builds into an epic lament, especially in a beautiful and tragic closing that risks absurdity to achieve the sublime. With Anna Paquin. 134 min.

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