When Nolan Hayes (Paul Walker) and his wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) enter the hospital, he's already got a sense that something is wrong. His wife is still several weeks away from her estimated delivery date, and the news is reporting a storm battering the Louisiana coast. On both fronts, the worst occurs: his infant daughter is delivered, but his wife dies in the process. Nolan is so distraught, he's hardly able to comprehend that before the storm turns into a hurricane -- Katrina. Nolan's daughter is placed inside a machine designed to help feed her and teach her to breathe for 48 hours, before she's able to do it on her own. When half the hospital evacuates, Nolan stays by her side. While her physician is out, the levees break, flooding the city and stranding Nolan alone in the hospital. The machine's battery begins to die, forcing Nolan to hook a generator to it that needs to be pumped every three minutes. It's a nightmare, but Nolan is unwilling to lose two family members in one day.
Hours represents an interesting artistic experiment for Paul Walker, a drama meant to strip away his charismatic exterior and give him a chance to dig into some heavier acting. Unfortunately, it also turned out to be one of the actor's final films, following his sudden death in November 2013. It's unfortunate for two reasons: one, Walker does in fact reveal some dramatic range as the film progresses into more desperate territory, and two, because Hours is also a flawed and potentially even unsuccessful movie. There are problems, mainly in Eric Heisserer's screenplay, that affect and intersect the effectiveness of Walker's performance, but it's also a performance that his fans will want to, and probably ought to see.
Heisserer's biggest problem is that he's afraid to get out of his movie's way. "A man gets stranded in a hospital during a hurricane and has to keep his daughter alive" -- that's enough grist for a movie. Instead, Hours piles the need for flashbacks of Nolan and Abigail's relationship, lots of news footage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, and the dying generator battery on top of that simple concept. To be fair, these elements are not fundamentally wrong; there's weight in Nolan's struggle to reconcile his grief at losing his wife with the joy of seeing his newborn daughter, and I'd certainly understand if Heisserer or his family lived in New Orleans and he funneled that personal experience into the script. At the same time, it frequently feels like he's trying to raise the emotional stakes for the viewer without any legitimate developments in Logan's situation.
The weakest of these elements is definitely the relationship between Abigail and Nolan, which is unfortunate because Walker's entire performance is built around his grief. The film has only been going for a couple of minutes before Abigail dies, and Genesis Rodriguez is only on screen for about thirty seconds of those minutes. Grief is a complex experience, but Heisserer seems to want to speed through a few of the stages before the audience has any idea who she was or what she was like. The timing works out against Walker on both fronts: when he's at his most shattered, we have no idea what it was really about, and when he's calmer, Heisserer is showing us flashback scenes that literally (and reductively) present what should be more evocative. During these sections, Nolan's need to keep charging the battery and other distractions feel forced, and Heisserer keeps cheating them anyway. The dying battery starts with a 3-minute warning light, a tiny window in which Nolan has to complete anything he wants to do outside of the hospital room, but the length of 3 minutes is so wildly inconsistent it hardly matters. In one scene, Nolan tries to run to the roof, only making it halfway up the stairs before time runs out. On his second run, he not only goes to search for something, but also lingers on the stairs, makes it to the roof, and stands there for a short scene before his watch beeps. Obviously, there needs to be a reason he has to stay right by the machine, but it would be better to keep the details a little vague -- if the audience wasn't told the exact amount of time, the scenes would be more suspenseful because the manipulation would be less obvious.
All that said, the bottom line is Walker's performance, and it is a strong one. Although many will be inclined to overstate its impressiveness in the wake of his passing, it's a solid start to what should've been new paths in his career. Before the film finds its footing, Walker isn't entirely able to shed his big grin and warm "bro" personality; a brief scene between Walker and the hospital chef feels like Walker, not the character. As his situation drags on, though, he finds levels of desperation and heartbreak that are surprisingly effective, in spite of everything the film is doing to distract the viewer from them. One scene late in the film is both Walker's best work in the movie, and one of the only scenes to properly connect the audience with Abigail. Not only is it moving, it's a heartbreaking shame, both in terms of the actor Walker hoped to become, and in reminding the viewer that most of Hours works against him.
Hours gets somewhat questionable DVD art that makes this look a little more like some sort of race-against-time thriller than a quiet drama, placing Walker outside, in the middle of the flood rather than inside the dark hospital room. This single-disc release comes in an eco-friendly DVD case with a paper insert containing the digital copy code, and the entire thing is packaged inside a matte cardboard slipcover.
The Video and Audio
You know what kind of movie really needs attention to detail when it comes to a DVD transfer? A film that takes place almost entirely in shadow, with what little lighting there is often provided by a single source that creates a very pointed, limited amount of illumination. Sadly, Lionsgate's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does not display that kind of attention to detail. Frankly, the image on this disc is kind of awful, garish banding effects and heavy artifacting plaguing nearly the entire film from front to back. On top of the lighting, soft focus is often employed, with blurred edges, only exacerbating the disc's struggle to resolve the image. Some of the banding distorts color -- shadows on a curtain in one flash back are an ugly mass of blocks and rings. A mighty underwhelming presentation.
Sound is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which fares better than the picture, which is to say it's adequate. Storm rumbling and other distant noises and incidents provide some nice directional effects, and the music sounds pretty good. Still, this is a film in which auditory details take on a whole new meaning, each representing a new threat to Nolan and his baby. This is an average track that lacks refinement or polish, much like the picture, and as such, is somewhat underwhelming. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and SPanish subtitles are also included.
Only two brief supplements are included. The first is a music video (4:00) for the song "All I Feel is You", and a promo (2:58) for Paul Walker's Reach Out Worldwide charity. Promo trailers for Divergent, Reasonable Doubt, a promo for Epix, and the same Reach Out Worldwide promo play before the main menu.
As I said before, Hours is a performance fans of the late Paul Walker should absolutely see, even though the film itself has plenty of problems. The disc is also pretty problematic, saddled with a poor transfer, underwhelming audio, and no bonus features of note. Rent it.
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