Paul Walker gives his physical and emotional all to a script that doesn’t deserve the effort in the manipulative, dull Hours, a father-and-daughter Louisiana tale on the other end of the quality spectrum from Beasts of the Southern Wild. Horror writer/director Eric Heisserer (the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street & The Thing) is out of his element here, delivering a film with good intentions but amateur execution. There’s not a scene in Hours that doesn’t feel slightly off, whether it’s a bad choice of camera angle, awkwardly forced dialogue, or a plot twist that insults intelligence. Pardon the obvious cliché – it’s not worth your time.
Once again, the underrated Mr. Walker (typically solid even in bad movies) does nothing wrong here. He’s well cast as Nolan, a man who we meet on the best and worst day of his life, which just so happens to be August 29, 2005 in New Orleans, LA. Nolan is at a hospital when Hurricane Katrina hits and he simply can’t leave. Not only is he mourning the loss of his wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), but she died giving birth to their new child, who now sits in a NICU breathing chamber that is not portable. As the hospital is evacuated, Nolan refuses to leave because doing so would mean the certain death of his baby girl.
Of course, the levee breaks, the waters rise, and the power goes out. Nolan is left to crank a generator with a bad battery that only gives him 2-3 minutes at a time to run to try and find help and even that battery charge is diminishing. Before long, Nolan and his infant have to deal with more than just power problems as people who aren’t exactly looking to help come seeking drugs and other supplies to raid. Can Nolan keep his baby alive long enough for her to start breathing on her own and for help to find them?
As you might imagine, much of Hours takes place with just its protagonist on-screen. And so we’re left with scenes in which Nolan is forced to talk to himself in ways no one would, because Heisserer doesn’t want silence, or sit pondering his relationship with Abigail, too much of which is seen in flashback. (There’s a powerful scene between Nolan and Abigail near the end that would have been significantly more so without the flashbacks that preceded it.) Walker gets more bedraggled as he gets more exhausted and his emotional commitment to the part is worth noting.
Sadly, that’s about all that is. Hours is one of those films that average viewers can tell is just a bit off right from the beginning. When the doctor tells Nolan that his wife is dead, it’s delivered with insincere dialogue and an awkward camera angle. And that lack of believability and professional filmmaking continues throughout the piece, leaving it without the realistic grounding it needed to be emotionally resonant. If we don’t believe Nolan’s plight, we won’t care what happens to him, and so Hours becomes shockingly boring for its short running time.
Until it becomes ridiculous. A few things happen in the final act that are clearly designed to ramp up tension to the finale. I didn’t buy most of them. A rooftop scene with a helicopter is infuriatingly false. And the sense that this material, rather than being a feature film, would work better in short story form – where we could hear Nolan’s increasingly-panicked interior monologue and where the flashbacks wouldn’t seem so forced into the script or even be necessary at all – just gets stronger as the piece gets dumber. By the time it ends, we should want to see Nolan and his miracle find safety. I just wanted to see the credits.