Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Hours" (2013)

Starring Paul Walker and Genesis Rodriguez
Written and directed by Eric Heisserer
Rated PG-13: Peril, language
Running Time: 97 Minutes

Nolan Hayes (Paul Walker) brings his pregnant wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) to the hospital one night. The doctors inform him that Abigail has given birth to a young girl, five weeks premature, and has died in the process. Meanwhile, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on New Orleans and the hospital staff are in the process of evacuating the hospital as the storm grows worse.

Nolan's daughter needs to be kept in an incubator that can't be moved. Worse, with the power out, the incubator is operating on a backup battery - which only has three minutes of charge. Nolan soon discovers that the rest of the hospital has been evacuated without him, leaving him alone with his daughter, forced to crank and recharge the battery every two or three minutes in order to keep her alive until they can be rescued.

Sometimes you approach the mass of little-known, direct-to-video titles on Netflix with trepidation. Let's be honest, there's a lot of crap movies out there. But occasionally, you find one that surprises you. "Hours" is not a great film, but defied my expectations of it.

Firstly, I do mourn the loss of Paul Walker. I'm a huge fan of the "Fast and Furious" movies, and by most accounts, Walker was a pretty cool dude. He passes my "Would Have a Beer With" test. So watching his final performances, like with other actors who die young, it's interesting to look at where he was in his career in these last films. "Hours" is rather outside the sort of roles Walker is known for, and you know, he doesn't do a bad job at all at it.

This might seem like an odd comparison, but much of "Hours" reminds me of the best parts of Will Smith's version of "I Am Legend." That is, Walker spends most of the movie by himself with only his infant daughter as company. To pass the time as he cranks the battery he tells his daughter about her mother and the pregnancy. He talks to her and even occasionally to the incubator as he struggles to keep himself awake and to figure out the various problems he encounters. As Nolan grows more tired and more desperate, Walker's performance improves. He even gets a couple of scenes where, odd as it might sound given the film's premise, he seems to be having a good amount of fun. With the entire film focused on Nolan and his limited movements within the hospital, the whole thing lives or dies on Walker's performance.

In fact, the movie itself improves as it goes along. I felt the beginning comes across as rather stilted. It's not until Nolan has to start running back to crank the incubator that things start to gel, and from then on, "Hours" is actually a pretty interesting film. Nolan encounters several problems, including finding food for himself and IV drips for the infant, attempting to contact the outside world and fending off looters. This allows the script to alternate between building tense sequences for Nolan to deal with those problems and quieter moments of bonding between Nolan and his child. The editing, which kind of bugged me in the beginning, grew tighter and more assured - some of the opening scenes have an awkwardness to it, like the editor left an extra second in here or there to throw off the pace of a scene.

There are some slow moments sprinkled here and there throughout the film, some bits that just don't quite work. The entire film is fairly low-key, with no large-scale action sequences, and mostly this works but occasionally it stumbles.

Aside from Walker's performance, none of the other actors in the film are all that noteworthy. Though, to be fair, no one else in the movie has more than a couple of brief scenes. Genesis Rodriguez is probably the closest thing Walker has to an actual co-star, and she appears mostly in short flashbacks that are supposed to give depth to Nolan's backstory but more often just feel like they exist to pad out the film's running time. Bits of actual news footage are also used to give some info about what's happening elsewhere in New Orleans, but this also comes across as extraneous and deflates the film's claustrophobic atmosphere since Nolan himself isn't seeing any of these newscasts.

"Hours" is worthwhile as a character study. While the overall story is somewhat predictable, the strength of Walker's performance and the emotional stakes it sets up make it worth your time.

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