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The Hours
2002 - PG-13 - 114 Mins.
Director: Stephen Daldry
Producer: Robert Fox and Scott Rudin
Written By: David Hare
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Stephen Dillane, Miranda Richardson
Review by: Jennie Kermode
   
Ostensibly the tale of three women and how their lives intertwine despite the decades which separate them, The Hours is actually something much cleverer, drawing its strongest parallels between the lives of the suicidally depressed Virginia Woolf and a man who spends his whole life afraid of her. This man is first introduced as an age patient, the audience encouraged to define him by his illness as in so many other films, but as the story unravels it becomes apparent that it is his psychological problems which have been the strongest factor in determining the course of his life and the lives of those around him. Ed Harris provides a stunning performance in this role, but is ably matched by Nicole Kidman as Woolf - aside from conjuring up a remarkable physical resemblance, she puts across superbly the inner toughness of a woman whom everybody thought of as fragile. This aspect of the film represents an impassioned plea for the right to self determination of the mentally ill; yet the narrative never loses sympathy with their carers; two men and two women devote their lives to providing for their loved ones, and have to take the decision as to whether to abandon them or to go on until the bitter end. The story examines the weight of social expectation upon these people, and it all comes down to a matter which was close to Woolf's heart - the observation that people's actions are often determined by what they are or are not able to bear.

If this sounds like compelling cinema, it is. It is supported by a number of superb performances. Meryl Streep hasn't been this good in years. Toni Colette's cameo highlights her underrated ability as a character actress. The child's performance, especially in terms of his physical acting, is impressively strong, which is important, because so much depends on it. Furthermore, the set decoration is amazing, very well tuned to each set of characters and their environment, complicated and believable; and there are some really impressive make-up effects, though mostly in places where the general viewer is unlikely to consciously appreciate them. However, despite all this, The Hours is a deeply flawed film. It suffers early on from problems with pacing, and the script, though it has its moments of brilliance, isn't really tight enough to grip the audience when it matters. There is too much redundant material here. Because of its concern with the slowness and mundanity of life, it is necessary for the story to drag at certain times, to convey the weight of time and repetitive living; certainly this could've been handled much more badly; but it doesn't quite pull through when it needs to. Especially in the first half, it lacks the tension of Woolf's own prose. For this reason, the viewer should be prepared to be patient; it would be a great shame to give up on this secretive film
before realising what wonders it has in store.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

 
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