The Hours is a very, very good film, possibly even a great one. It has a very interesting narrative structure, literary dialogue, powerful acting, backed up by the gorgeous cinematography. This last point is the only thing holding me back from declaring it great outright. My only problem is that it relies perhaps too much on the writing and the acting to make its points, and not enough on the visuals. I think that’s just a personal bias though; the film is highly effective no matter how it does it.
The Hours tells a highly complex story revolving around unfulfilled women and possible suicides. In 1920s England, Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is battling with mental illness and working to complete her novel Mrs. Dalloway. She is supported by her husband Leonard (Stephen Dillane), who tries to do what’s best for her even though he can’t possibly know what that is. Despite the love between the two of them, Virginia commits suicide years later (no spoilers- the movie opens with this). In 1950s California, suburban housewife Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), attempts to bake a cake for her husband (John C Reilly), reads Mrs. Dalloway, and has a surprising encounter with a neighbor (Toni Collete). Through these events she becomes convinced that her life is intolerable and she needs to escape. In the third timeline, present day, Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) prepares a celebration for her former lover Richard (Ed Harris) receiving a prestigious poetry prize. He is dying of AIDS, and she is devastated at the impossibility of their having any future together.
I could spend many more paragraphs explaining how the three different timelines are connected, but honestly, it’s not that hard to follow in the movie and is probably more rewarding for you to figure out for yourself. It’s interesting to see how the narrative fits together, but doesn’t really amount to much more than that until the film’s final moments. It’s here that the film packs a real emotional punch, as if it hadn’t been doing that already. Saving the revelation of how the different stories all fit together until the end could have felt horribly manipulative, but I think here it ended up paying off in emotional impact. On the other hand, something that didn’t go quite as well in terms of me feeling manipulated, was how nearly every scene of this movie, especially Laura’s story line, seems like a build up to someone potentially committing suicide. In the middle there it got to be a bit too much, so much so that by the end of Laura’s middle section I was pretty much emotionally exhausted, so the scene with Virginia and Leonard at the train station didn’t hit me as hard as it probably should have.
As I said earlier, the biggest reasons to see this movie are the performances and the script. There really is some beautiful and poignant dialogue here; you can tell the film was adapted from a novel because it’s all very literary, with lots of artful descriptions. Everyone in the star studded cast knocks it out of the park, really. I could spend this whole paragraph debating which performance is the best, but that’s pointless and not really informative. Everyone does a fantastic job and they work together so well. Many performers are able to do so much with just facial expressions, which is notable especially because the dialogue does take center stage in this movie. The actors brought more than just the line delivery in this movie, and it’s really great to watch.
Lastly, the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey. Not really a name I’ve heard before, but that doesn’t mean much of anything at all (looking him up; he was the DP on a lot of Joe Wright stuff and the first Avengers). As the writing and the performances are really center stage in this movie, the cinematography isn’t as flashy but McGarvey still does a fantastic job here. The two things that I appreciated most were the cinematography’s (along with production design and costumes) ability to show what time period we were in and also the control of the color scheme. The color scheme was another way to differentiate between the different time lines, as Virginia’s was more green, Laura’s was more yellow, and Clarissa was more white. There was a general tendency towards pink, green, and brown throughout though, so the timelines all felt unified into one movie. It’s a little fuzzy for me, a couple days after watching the film, but I remember thinking I liked the way the lighting would change between time periods as well. There are also a pretty intense special effect shot that I can’t really decide if it’s out of place or not. If you’ve seen the movie you probably know exactly which one I’m talking about, but for the most part, McGarvey does a fantastic job capturing the actors’ emotions in closeups as well as differentiating between the time periods.
The Hours was a movie that affected me on a deeply emotional level. While in some cases I thought it veered a little bit too much towards over manipulating its audience, other times it was really perfect at depicting the characters’ emotions. You can tell it was adapted from a novel; it feels very literary and the dialogue and performances really take center stage. However, that doesn’t mean Daldry doesn’t take advantage of the cinematography and production design to help tell the story as well. Really, overall I was very pleased with The Hours.
“It was death. I chose life.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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