by Marty Demarest

The Hours is an impossibly deft act of filmic storytelling by director Stephen Daldry, adapted from the impossibly dour novel by Michael Cunningham. Somehow, Daldry and screenwriter David Hare transformed Cunningham's triptych of three women connected by Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway into a structurally sound film. And then they got Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore to star in it, as Woolf, a modern Mrs. Dalloway, and a 1950s housewife, respectively, each facing a personal crisis.

Julianne Moore, as she has in almost every film, anchors the movie before it becomes a shipwreck of drama. With her nuanced vulnerability, she reminds us that, while life is full of intensity, it's seldom as histrionic as movies like The Hours would have us believe. Nevertheless, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep get to unpack all of their thespian baggage before our eyes. Thanks in large part, however, to the decorous undercurrent of Phillip Glass' score, most of the drama of the film simmers mightily without boiling over.

But that may be its main shortcoming. After watching a film in which every moment is so fraught with inner, unspoken disaster, some sort of catharsis is needed. While Ed Harris', Streep's, and Kidman's multiple breakdowns set the beginning and middle of the film jangling, it reaches its conclusion with nowhere left to go. For some this will transfer the emotional resonance of the film into their lives; but performances such as Moore's reveal that it needn't have been so intense to begin with.

However, it's the DVD's actor's commentary that disappoints the most. Paramount scored the coup of getting Moore, Streep, and Kidman to narrate. Hearing the analysis of the film by Moore and Streep is worthwhile; Kidman, showing her youth in such august company, sadly sticks to actorly nuts and bolts. Unfortunately, the commentaries were seemingly recorded at separate times, and so the actresses gamely discuss their sections of the film without any of the chemistry and camaraderie that one imagines developing if they were all allowed to react to the film together. A couple of decent documentaries, about the making of the film and the life of Virginia Woolf, make it a slightly more valuable purchase. But anyone who realizes that it's the chemistry of the three women involved that make the film work will feel a twinge of frustration with the extras.

Publication date: 07/10/03

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