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The Hours movie poster

The Hours Movie Review

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One of the five movies selected for Best Picture, "The Hours" presents three of today's finest actresses at their peaks in a disturbingly depressing yet richly powerful drama.

"The Hours" tells the tale of three different women in three different decades, that of author Virginia Woolf as she is writing her famous "Mrs. Dalloway," of housewife Laura Brown, who is reading "Mrs. Dalloway" some years later, and of Clarissa Vaughn, who essentially is Mrs. Dalloway, or at least her dying ex-boyfriend thinks so. All three women should be happy: Virginia lives with a rich husband on an estate outside of London, Laura has a loving husband, a son, and a nice house, and Clarissa has enough money that she can essentially just worry about parties. But is that really enough? Just below the surface, all three women are suffering from depression, almost and in some cases to the point of suicide, and for what? Is it really so simple to answer? Should these women's happiness be described by what the stereotype is?

Director Stephen Daldry brings to life the novel written by Michael Cunningham, which was in turn based upon "Mrs. Dalloway," with amazing results. Though I have not read "The Hours" (honestly, I hated "Mrs. Dalloway"), Daldry and screenwriter David Hare must have spent days trying to figure out who to represent such a story on the big screen. How do you tell three corresponding stories that span the course of a century? It isn't easy, but Daldry makes it look simple. The scenes interact wonderfully, even though Woolf's story is based in 1923, Brown's in 1949, and Vaughn's in 2001.

"The Hours" is a hair-tingling, emotional powerhouse, though it takes a while to get started. The first half of the movie is more development than anything else, with little purely captivating kind of stuff and actually some boring scenes. However, as the movie walks on, things start to become more clear and piece together, and by the end everything seems perfect. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, it proves why it is up for an Oscar.

As good as the movie is, it is the acting that leads the way. Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf with a captivating eeriness, and under the veil of makeup that Daldry decided to use for his otherwise gorgeous actress, it is very easy to forget who is on the screen. This role is so unlike Kidman, there's no wonder why she has been nominated.

Julianne Moore is Laura Brown, who turns in the best performance of the film. Strangely enough, she has more screen time than Kidman and her character is also more important, yet she is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, while Kidman falls into the Best Actress category. Of course, Moore is also nominated for Best Actress for her performance in "Far From Heaven." Moore is one of those actresses that has been churning out great performances for years, and it is nice to see that she is finally getting the recognition she deserves. For "The Hours," she deserves that recognition and more.

Then there's Meryl Streep. How many bad movies has Streep done, honestly? Not many, and "The Hours" can go on her list as another success. Also nominated for Best Supporting Actress (but for "Adaptation"), Streep does exactly what is expected of her, and that is dominate the screen. Her role here is much more powerful than in "Adaptation," but I doubt she is complaining; nobody could have played Clarissa Vaughn better than her.

While all three actresses essentially share an ensemble starring role, there are many supporting actors that deserve recognition as well. John C. Reilly does another good job as Mr. Brown, though for good reason he got nominated for "Chicago" instead. Reilly is one of my favorite actors of all time, not only because he is good in everything he is in, but because he chooses his movies very wisely. After all, he has roles in three of the five Best Picture nominations (along with "Gangs of New York").

Jeff Daniels turns in a pretty good performance, as does Claire Danes, who has been wisely been sticking to some intelligent supporting roles after her career crumbled a few years ago.

And, of course, who can forget Ed Harris, who is nominated for his performance here as a poet who is dying of AIDS. Frail and sickly, this is another example of a wonderful makeup job (why didn't the artist get nominated?), but, of course, it is Harris himself who brings the character alive. He is the most stunning of everyone in "The Hours."

"The Hours" is a depressing, morbid tale of women and depression, but is also one of the most powerful movies of the year. The acting is excellent, and the only thing that affects its chances at a Best Picture Oscar is that it takes a long time to get going. Is it the Best Picture of the Year? I don't think so, but it's close.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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