A film review by Craig J. Koban December 30, 2013  

HOURS jjj
 

2013, R, 97 mins.

 

Paul Walker as Nolan  /  Génesis Rodríguez as Abigail  /  Nick Gomez as Jerry  /  Judd Lormand as Glenn  /  Lena Clark as Lucy  /  Tony Bentley as Doctor

Written and directed by Eric Heisserer

HOURS is an intriguing suspense film in the sense that (a) it compellingly takes place during a reality based event, (b) it has a fairly ingenious premise set within that event, and (b) it represents one of Paul Walker's last films, made before his tragic and horrific death a few weeks ago.  

Probably much more famously known for his ex-lawman turned wheelman in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, Walker perhaps was never given, as a direct result of this, much credit for being a relatively decent and fairly headstrong actor (see his performances in PLEASANTVILLE and the terribly underrated RUNNING SCARED for proof).  In HOURS Walker is allowed to flex his performance muscles with his most thanklessly strong performance to date, thankless in the sense that he essentially acts opposite of virtually no one throughout most of the film. 

The film begins in New Orleans in 2005 on the day when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coastal United States.  Walker plays a soon-to-be father named Nolan, whom has just brought his wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) into a local hospital after she has gone into labor with their first child.  Despite being five weeks early, it appears that the baby is indeed on its way, which leaves the anxiety plagued Nolan pacing in the crowded hospital waiting room as Katrina rears its ugly head outside.  The doctor arrives with news that Nolan is the father of a new baby girl, but that she is forced to be on a neonatal incubator feeding her oxygen for the next several days at the risk of dying.  Abigail, on the other hand, was not so lucky, as she died in childbirth.  Nolan takes the news with initial denial, followed by teary-eyed acceptance. 

Realizing his newfangled responsibilities as a single father, Nolan goes to see his new daughter, during which time a mandatory evacuation of most of the hospital’s patients and staff is occurring, which leaves Nolan alone with his baby (the incubator is too large to be moved and can’t be disconnected).  Things get worse when the power abruptly goes out, leaving the panicky, yet industrious Nolan thinking on his feet for a solution.  He quickly attaches a hand-cranked power generator to the incubator, but each power up leaves just three minutes of energy at a time to ensure his daughter’s survival.  This leaves Nolan in the hellish situation of having to crank the generator every three minutes for an indefinite period of time, at least until he receives aid from someone on the outside. 

 

 

The fascinating setup of HOURS, oddly enough, reminded me of SPEED, another thriller in which the hero is put in an ungodly situation where numerical restraints are placed upon him.  In the HOURS the premise of Nolan having to recharge the generator every three minutes seems so impossibly simple, but it’s successfully milked for maximum tension.  Initially, Nolan’s prime mission is to crank the generator, and he finds rather unique ways of passing the time, like relaying his life story to his daughter, telling her about his wife, and even – at one point – carefully changing the infant’s diaper.  Alas, Nolan begins to realize that help may not be arriving anytime soon, which leaves him with the task of looking around the hospital – in under three minutes – for anything that he can use to help his baby and/or get outside aid to the hospital. 

This obviously leads to some of the film’s more exemplarily handled sequences, with each new one becoming more feverously intense than the last.  In one instance, Nolan races out of the hospital and into the flood ravaged streets to an ambulance with a CB radio that he desperately tries to make work…in less than three minutes…but then when his watch timer goes off, he has to quickly abandon the task at hand and return to his baby’s generator.  Then the generator itself – if matters were not already dire – drops down to giving less than two minutes of power, leaving Nolan even more desperate.  This leads to multiple trips to the hospital’s basement utility room, where Nolan hopes to bring up a more substantial generator.  Later, he makes it up to the rooftop and tries to flag down a police helicopter with a flare gun, but is then shot at by other roof dwellers on adjacent buildings that want the helicopter’s attention.  Adding maximum fuel to the already hot fire is the appearance of looters and scavengers, who care little for Nolan or his newborn. 

Again, Walker has big shoes in the film to fill, as he has to carry the emotional weight of the narrative on his shoulders throughout.  In his largely one-man show, Walker displays in Nolan a man plagued by a whirlwind of emotions: sadness over his wife’s death, elation over being a father, worry over keeping his daughter’s generator going, and hopelessness when it appears than no hope is around.  That, and Nolan battles hunger and sleep depravation as final psychological blows to his system.  Walker not only authentically renders Nolan as a man that’s tender hearted, vulnerable, and tough willed, but he also makes us believe that he’s traumatized by grief and despair as well.  For the most part, Walker’s effectively dialed in and understated performance grounds the film and makes us invest in Nolan more on an empathetic level.  You really, really feel for this poor sap and his predicament. 

Most of HOURS was filmed, ironically enough, almost entirely in a New Orleans hospital than was closed due to damage suffered at the hands of Katrina, which gives the film an immediate sense of eerie veracity and assists with its dramatic impact.  It should be noted that HOURS does not use the real-life tragedy of the hurricane for cheap, manipulative payoffs or for sensationalistic plotting purposes.  Katrina mostly occurs in the background of the film with actual archival news footage feeding the audience the particulars.  Obviously, this had much to do with the budgetary limitations of the film, but showcasing Katrina would have been a misstep in any event: the real story here is one of human survival and Nolan’s struggles to keep his prematurely born daughter from dying.  The hurricane almost becomes a tertiary element in the film as a result. 

I was very surprised by how well HOURS works as an economical thriller, as it takes a very sparse scenario, injects a downtrodden and urgent minded hero into the mix, and subsequently generates palpable nerve wracking suspense and a lingering sensation of dread throughout.  The film has a slow build-up towards its moments of intrigue, but the longer it progresses on its lean, mean, and just-right 97 minute running time, the more invested we become in it.  The only really damning side effect of seeing HOURS is that it made me reflect on what a capable actor Paul Walker was when given the proper material to work with, and the notion of never being able to see him build off of the performance success that he cemented here is undeniably sad.  On rousing positive, though, he did leave us with a good film.  

Actually, a very good film.  Ya done good, Paul.

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