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The Hours | Review

Winner by a Nose

Daldry gets top marks for direction and Kidman, Moore and Streep dominate in the art of acting.

Not since I pulled out the tissues during a screening of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies has a film been able to be so simple in the delivery of ideas and yet be so profoundly touching all in one filmic opus. After charming audiences with his uplifting tale of the boy who prefers ballet slippers over boxing gloves, director Stephen Daldry adapts the apparently ‘not to difficult’ Pulitzer-prize winning novel of Michael Cumming to film perfection. The Hours is the type of film which will grip you in small doses with themes that touch upon the ‘darker’ moments found in the human condition.

Commencing with the always uplifting sequence of the deliberate act of suicide, this film is entrenched in themes that orbit around ‘existence’, the purpose of life and the path of one’s soul. Virginia Woolf’s creation of Mrs. Dalloway, – a character with a troubled, tormented psyche suffering from the agony of living life is reflected in the film’s three female protagonists. Ms. Woolf (Nicole Kidman- The Others) finds a temporary solace wallowing away with her pen and spends her energy fighting off the morals of “proper behavior” which are imposed on her and lives with the consent mind battle of saying yes or no to potentially ending her life. In the opening sequence and for most of the film, Daldry uses some of the best editing to cross-cut from one character, from one era and from one idea to the next exploring the inner thoughts of an L.A housewife (Julianne Moore- Far From Heaven) of the 50’s as well as a contemporary modernized look in the personage of a mother (Meryl Streep-Adaptation) dealing with the daily chore of surviving theatrics of her very ill former lover (Ed Harris- Pollock). In a film where death is the ultimate gratification, we witness the inevitable and the unthinkable acts found within human spirit with a Daldry treatment that hits us in a serene-like kind of note.

During my screening of The Hours, I couldn’t help but wonder about the degree of difficulty in making such a feature, perhaps the challenge was in having the actors play off of key human emotions rather than have the dialogue interfere with the emotional cues. Kidman as Woolf demonstrates a resilience with her anti-everything attitude, while Moore’s blank stares of a person that died a while back ago reminding me of the Allison Janney’s frozen mother in American Beauty, while Meryl Streep’s performance as the contemporary character of the piece is portrayed with an authentic edge that shows today’s typical all you can be women carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. The three “Mrs. Dalloways” are beautifully interwoven into connected ideas and emotions felt within each one of them are masterfully transferred onto its audience. I couldn’t help but marvel at how Daldry’s studio film was able to avoid Hollywood descriptive clichéd mush and translate thematic elements and the emotional weight from such characters onto the celluloid. The pacing is purposely slowed down, giving depth to the images and to the different characters especially in the opening sequence where the film gives off the impression that a human’s heartbeat guides the balance between space and time. The well-crafted editing allows for Philip Glass’s simplistic film score to match the emotion found within image which are exquisite to say the least and there is even place to find profounder meanings to the visual cues of inanimate objects such as birthday cakes and broken eggshells. The progression of the film is perfectly timed between the characters, and the surprise twist in the end only magnifies the genesis within this picture.

The Hours is not only showcase for some of the finest acting talents in the business, but is also a premier example of how a studio film can challenge filmmaking principles as witnessed in the orchestrated dramatic cues found in a film such as the over-acclaimed Antwone Fisher. Daldry’s outstanding direction makes for a film that resonates well-after the film’s end and I have the impression that when Oscar shines on this picture that the masses (both genders) will warm up to it while my only issue of concern is why must we wait until the end of the year to see some of the year’s finest films?

Rating 4.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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