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The Hours Review

By Joe Lozito

Manic Repression


It's some kind of magic that brought Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore together for Stephen Daldry's adaptation of Michael Cunningham's "The Hours". Here are three of America's finest actresses all at the top of their respective forms. Ms. Kidman and Ms. Moore seem to excel exponentially with each passing film and Ms. Streep only grows more beautiful and expressive with age.

David Hare adapts Michael Cunningham's novel which links 24 hours in the lives of three women in three different time periods. In 1923, Ms. Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, in the process of writing her novel "Mrs. Dalloway" and wrestling with her confinement in the suburbs of England; in 1951, Ms. Moore is a Los Angeles housewife preparing for her husband's birthday; and in 2001, Ms. Streep plays Clarissa Vaughn, a New York editor planning a party for her ex-boyfriend, an award-winning poet dying of AIDS (Ed Harris approaching Pacino-esque heights of "acting").

This is the second film adapted from a novel for Ms. Steep this year and it's a 180-degree turn from Charlie Kaufman's "Adaptation", which was more of a film about how hard it is to adapt a novel. Ms. Streep's Clarissa is a modern variation on the Ms. Dalloway character - a woman that has spent the last several years caring for her friend and ignoring her own life, including her live-in lover Sally (a perfectly cynical Allison Janney) and daughter (Claire Danes, precocious as ever). Ms. Streep's face is like a book that can convey each passing emotion with heartbreaking precision. Her Clarissa spirals out of emotional control in a scene as amazing as anything the actress has ever done. Obviously, that's saying a lot.

As for Ms. Moore, this is not new territory - having just completed a different take on the same repressed 50s housewife in "Far From Heaven". But where Todd Haynes' ode to the films of Douglas Sirk has Ms. Moore happily participating in the society that represses her, in "The Hours" her Laura Brown is trapped in a life she never envisioned for herself. Every strained smile or pained glance is a study in under-acting. The actress has the toughest job in the film, having to say so much with so little, and she succeeds admirably.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kidman, slumping her shoulders and looking down her prosthetic nose, all but disappears in the role of Ms. Woolf. Having her and Ms. Moore in the same film as Ms. Streep almost feels like a passing of the baton from the older, revered master to two younger apprentices finding their own voices. Like Deniro and Pacino in "The Godfather, Part II", it's a shame that the three women hardly share any screen time together, but watching the film as a whole it almost seems as though they do since they represent different sides of the same story.

If this is a 'chick flick' it is one of the finest I have seen, and the rare instance where the male characters are treated with as much respect as the women particularly the excellent Stephen Dillane as Virginia's put-upon husband. Each scene is vibrant and emotional to such a degree that is moves with the pace of an action film. As a director, Mr. Daldry ("Billy Elliot") mostly stays out of the way, subtly jumping between time periods, but the original score of swirling strings and piano by Philip Glass gives the film an operatic quality. The magic of the "The Hours" is how each character finds his or her own way to break the bonds that confine them and start living their lives. The only thing more difficult than forgetting this film is figuring out which actress to give the Oscar to.

What did you think?

Movie title The Hours
Release year 2002
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Stunning performances by Streep, Kidman and Moore are enough to make this gutwrenching story of three women linked by Virginia Woolf's 'Mrs. Dalloway' through a century of time one of the best films of the year. Outstanding writing and direction just seal the deal.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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