Like Clockers, the previous Spike Lee movie it most resembles, 25th Hour opens with a bloody body. This time, though, the mass of black-and-red pulp is a dog. Even more significantly, it can be saved. Nice-guy drug dealer Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) initially intends to put the injured pooch out of its misery, but he then decides it wants to live. Hope in the shadow of catastrophe is the uncharacteristically uplifting theme of this 9/11-shaped tough-guy drama: Like the dog he rescued, Monty wants to survive, even as he faces hard time for selling heroin—and the troubling suspicion that it was his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson), who turned him in. Scripted by David Benioff from his own novel, the film transpires mostly on the day before Monty is required to report to prison. The pre-convict says farewell to his dad (Brian Cox), concludes his relationship with Russian mob boss Uncle Nikolai (Levani), and goes to a trendy nightclub for a farewell bash with Naturelle and his two best friends, arrogant Wall Street trader Francis (Barry Pepper) and timid prep-school English teacher Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman). That Monty would still be close to these childhood pals is implausible, but not as dubious as the character of club kid Mary (Anna Paquin), a jailbait vamp who happens be one of Jacob’s students. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Lee flick without paper-thin female characters—as well as racial and ethnic tension and that trademark gliding shot—but this time the director is after something a little different. 25th Hour is Lee’s shapeliest, most coherent work since Malcolm X, and like that film, this one takes a tentative step toward endorsing universal—or at least citywide—brotherhood. The communal connection is the post-traumatic stress of the attack on the World Trade Center, whose site is visible from Francis’s apartment and variously depicted as the Ground Zero site and two columns of light. Shot by Amores Perros cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, 25th Hour is edgy, smeary, and violent, but it also wants to offer both Monty and his hometown a shot of redemption: Not only is the movie dedicated to 13 dead FDNY rescue workers, but damned if it doesn’t end with a song from The Rising. —Mark Jenkins