Hours before the worst of Hurricane Katrina wrecks havoc on Louisiana, Nolan Hayes (Paul Walker) and his very pregnant wife barge into a New Orleans emergency room. Their baby girl is born successfully, but will need to rest in an incubator for the next two days until she can breathe on her own. Due to complications during the delivery, Nolan’s wife did not survive. Devastated in his grief, Nolan now has to raise a child that he, admittedly, has no idea how to raise.
The storm hits. Hard. The power goes out and the hospital is evacuated. In order for Nolan to keep his daughter alive, he has to furiously crank a generator every three minutes. Three minutes of life at time, all while battling human and natural disasters, and his own increasing exhaustion.
The question that will forever haunt Hours is, of course: Is Paul Walker good in the film? Did the star, who suffered an untimely death last month, show greatness in what will be his last major film role? The simple answer is yes. Paul Walker is very good in Hours. So good, in fact, that it is by long and far the finest performance of his career. And I don’t offer that compliment lightly. I’m not letting Walker’s death affect my opinion; he’s actually quite incredible in the film. Period.
Heisserer’s script, however, is not. From a critical standpoint, I couldn’t help but compare Hours to J.C. Chandor’s masterful All is Lost. Both films contain mostly one man battling the elements, doing whatever they can to survive. Hours is less confident in its approach to its main character’s isolation, relying on frequent interruptions by new characters, and heartwarming flashbacks of his wife. But that’s a common narrative device in films like this. All is Lost was unique in the way that it only contained one person. I certainly don’t expect that level of audaciousness in every film of this kind. But, more importantly, I was fascinated by the differences in how Heisserer and Chandor’s characters handled their situations. Robert Redford hardly says a word in All is Lost, but Paul Walker never really shuts up in Hours. And this is the film’s biggest fault: by having Nolan constantly grumble to himself, his infant daughter, and a random dog, Hours assumes that the audience’s attention can’t be held in silence. Had Nolan said less, the film would’ve been far more compelling.
But please don’t let that be the major takeaway of this review. Although Hours feels like it was made by a first time director, the film is an overall worthy effort. It creates moments of great tension, fear and paranoia, and it is anchored by an actor eager to prove that he really did have it. That’s the finest compliment I can give a performer, that they have that thing, that edge, that spark – they have it. Before Hours, I thought Paul Walker was an occasionally fine actor, aware of his restraints, but continually trying to improve himself. It is such a shame that it took Hours to prove distinctly that he had that edge. He had that spark. He had it. Tragically, we’ll never get to see that edge develop. We’ll just have to rely on Hours to prove it to us, time and time again.
Paul Walker: A-, the film: B