"The Hours" (IMDb listing) tells a story of longing, desire, regret, choices, and ultimately, acceptance. It's a lovingly crafted film, if not entirely accessible to everyone. I'm not even sure I can fully praise its mystifying flavors, as the film is far too obtuse for any defined critique, much like its central figure, the enigmatic Virginia Woolf.
"The Hours" features three intertwined stories. The first takes place in the early 1920s, as Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) battles her complacent life by beginning work on her defining novel, "Mrs. Dalloway." The second story is set in the 1950s, with a housewife (Julianne Moore) who aches to leave her Donna Reed life, and becomes consumed with thoughts of suicide after reading "Mrs. Dalloway." Story three revolves around Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep), a lesbian book editor who is spending a similar "Mrs. Dalloway" day planning a birthday party for her friend and former lover (Ed Harris), who is dying of AIDS. This forces Clarissa to reexamine her choices in life, and the way she places other people before her own needs.
"The Hours" is a tough nut to crack if you aren't a scholar of Woolf. Taking three related stories, all dealing with Woolf's feminist-tinged, mournful dialogs on life, and weaving them together to make a thematic whole, "The Hours" is a sorrowful joy. A film of such dark beauty, regret, and sadness that one might expect rain to fall inside the theater. Its origins are defiantly literary-based, but the emotions can be felt by anyone who has ever made a wrong or impractical choice.
Directed by Stephen Daldry, "The Hours" takes the director miles away from his debut, the lyrical "Billy Elliot." "The Hours" is stronger work from Daldry, forcing him to tame the unruly beast found in Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning novel (adapted here by screenwriter David Hare), on which this film is based. Daldry's balancing act is impressive, considering the caliber of talent at work here, and the general death-by-interpretation essence of the source material. While not every story can be realized to its full potential (the film's intrinsic downfall), Daldry makes the pieces fit smoothly, and an excellent film is born.
The cast for "The Hours" is jaw-droppingly impressive: Streep, Moore, Kidman, Allison Janney, Claire Danes, Ed Harris, Eileen Atkins, Toni Collette, Stephen Dillane, John C. Reilly, and Miranda Richardson all contribute something to the story, mostly in small parts. While Moore and Streep turn in anticipated fine performances, what Kidman does with her interpretation of Woolf is impressive. Losing herself under a false nose, and burying her accent in a deep, thick fog of an English accent, Kidman gets lost in the role. She successfully portrays Woolf's burgeoning insanity, coupled with panic-inducing claustrophobia brought on by complacency, as does Moore and Streep with their respective parts. It's good work all around.
What makes these frayed ends of the story tie together with ease is Phillip Glass' spellbinding score. A scholar of rhythmic pulses and instrumental outbursts, Glass' music for "The Hours" acts as the bridge for each emotional movement. It provides safe passage where a lesser score wouldn't be able to make the necessary connections this story needs. Glass' output has been sporadic in recent years, and his work here on "The Hours" reminds me of just how good a composer he truly is.
Filmfodder Grade: A-