Judge Gordon Sullivan spent forty-eight hours writing this review.
Every second counts.
It's hard to review a Paul Walker film in light of his demise before his last couple of projects could be released. It becomes all the harder when the whole point of the film—at least in the case of Hours—is Paul Walker keeping someone else alive. Add to that the backdrop of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, and you've got a recipe for a film that's going to feel odd to most viewers. On the one hand, the film does an effective job living up to its thriller elements, but many viewers will be left feeling a bit icky about the numerous other elements of the film.
Nolan (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious) wheels his pregnant wife into a New Orleans hospital just as Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on Louisiana shores. She tragically dies in childbirth, and their baby needs to be on an incubator for at least forty-eight hours until she can breathe on her own. When Katrina knocks out power, Nolan will be forced to keep dangers at bay, including looters, an iffy generator, and his own grieving psyche.
Though Paul Walker was never going to join the ranks of Hollywood's most respected actors, he worked often and was consistent in his ability to bring a kind of grounded purpose to fairly absurd plots. It's not hard to see why he was cast in Hours. He has an everyman quality about him that makes it easy to connect with his plight. In terms of thriller power, you can't get much more primal than Hours. You've got the messed-up hero (his wife just died!) whose only job is to protect his newborn. That alone could probably be thrilling enough to keep a whole movie going, but Hours adds in the real-life difficulties of Katrina. There were all kinds of crazy things happening in New Orleans at the time, and hospitals were a likely target for everyone from refugees to criminals.
In that respect, Hours doesn't let up for its 97 minutes. The fact that Nolan has to crank the dodgy generator every three minutes or his baby will stop breathing makes for a compelling organizing device, as Nolan must race from generator to incubator and back to ensure the safety of his daughter. The usage of Katrina as a backdrop adds a touch of realism to the proceedings as well beyond the usually anonymous storms that most thrillers conjure.
Hours also gets a decent DVD release. The film's 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is solid. The film's detail is pretty strong, with good color saturation. Some of the flashbacks are bright and show off a more traditionally clear image. Black levels are crucial to the film, and for the most part they stay dark and consistent. Overall the film has a slightly gritty look to it, but that supports the thriller aspects perfectly. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is similarly strong. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, and the rest of the track does a fine job establishing the soundstage. There's appropriate roar from the generator as well as delicacy from the incubator.
Extras include a music video (for "All I Feel is You") and an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film.
On the flip side, though, it's hard not to get distracted by the feeling the film is being a bit exploitative. Perhaps in a few years we'll all look back on Paul Walker's body of work differently, for now it feels a bit too soon. That will change with time, as viewers get more comfortable with his passing. More difficult to shake off is the feeling that using footage from Hurricane Katrina feels exploitative in a way that's not really great. Though the realism it brings is appreciated, the story doesn't do enough to address why it matters that it's Hurricane Katrina instead of any other major storm (or an anonymous storm in general). Perhaps that too will fade with time, but for now these elements detract rather than add to a thriller that is otherwise well-made.
Hours may never emerge from the shadow of Paul Walker's death, but it proves to be a strong entry in his body of work. The plot moves forward with unrelenting speed, and Walker's central performance is surprisingly dark and vulnerable. Fans of his work should definitely check this one out. Hours also shows that writer/director Eric Heisserer (who previously scripted The Thing remake) could become a force in mid-level action flicks. Though most fans will want more extras than this disc includes, it's at least worth a rental.
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