Low-budget, independent films require a few important things to engross an audience. Since they do not have the budget of a blockbuster, they rely heavily on the script and the actors. In theory, Hours should have had both. In practice, it had neither.
Our story opens on a soon-to-be father and mother entering a hospital at the onset of Hurricane Katrina. There is a complication with the birth, and Nolan (Paul Walker) is left with only his prematurely born daughter, who requires a ventilator to breathe. As he wrestles with his wife’s death and how to love the child he blames, the hospital evacuates and leaves them behind without electrity, surrounded by water and looters.
Writer Eric Heisserer makes his directorial debut with Hours, biting off a large chunk of human emotion in the process. While his past credits have been mostly horror flicks, this film interacts with much deeper concepts. Hours deals with life-and-death scenarios, with love and loss, with the failings of human nature and the ability to overcome it. The ideas and situations it introduces look great as index cards on a wall, but break down in the details.
Before long, it becomes difficult to decide whether you are watching a thriller or a melodrama. Paul Walker, despite giving what might be the best performance of his career, is not good enough to carry the mediocre dialogue. His costars are even less capable. As Katrina rages outside and Nolan runs low on supplies, the film resorts to cliches to fill its ninety-seven minutes. The plot is painfully predictable, the only surprise being the useless flashbacks whose only effect is to make us feel a little more sorry for the guy whose wife died. Throughout the movie, the thrill meter stays at a constant 6, with no spikes to shock us or lulls to let us reflect. The movie is just as tense whether Nolan is talking to his daughter or hiding from looters with guns. This gives the audience the feeling of time dragging on, which is obviously intended to compound the anxiety. Instead, the effect of this is to make Hours feel much, much longer than it is.
One of the more striking gaps in the story is the lack of religion. People are turned to Christ when they realize they are powerless in themselves. There is a moment at the beginning of the film that it looks like Nolan is praying, but it is short-lived and does not resurface. It would have seemed cliche had Nolan converted, but it would have helped the character to at least entertain the notion.
Really, though, the main issue with Hours is its lack of characters. Heisserer puts more responsibility on Walker than he is capable of handling. Because he has no one to interact with, Walker is forced to provide a running commentary on everything he does. The rare moments of good acting in the movie are poorly offset by the character’s monologues. A director should never require the actor to tell the audience what he is doing instead of showing them.
If you are looking for good old Paul Walker, doing what he does, you would be better suited watching one of his several Fast and Furious movies. If you are looking for a tense, thought-provoking thriller with only one main actor, watch Buried. If you like to validate yourself by pointing out the cliches before they happen, you will probably enjoy this film much more than I did. The truth is, Hours is a great concept, poorly executed and badly acted. While it might have aided Walker’s career if he were still alive, he will be remembered more for the Fast and Furious franchise than for Hours.