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"The Hours" Movie Review
Time Well Spent


Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours."
©2002 Paramount Pictures


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What do you call a movie that features brilliant performances by every actor no matter the size of the role, intelligent dialogue, and a compelling story with emotional depth? You call it "The Hours" and you justifiably label it with every accolade (even the clichéd ones) normally associated with an outstanding film.

Based on the critically acclaimed book "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham ("The Hours" was the original working title of Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway"), the story follows three women living in three different eras whose lives are connected through time by Woolf's novel, "Mrs. Dalloway."

The tale begins with Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman sporting a prosthetic nose and drab clothing) fighting a severe case of depression/mental illness while beginning work on her novel, which will ultimately become "Mrs. Dalloway." The second element of the story picks up with Laura Brown (Julianne Moore< looking like a fragile porcelain doll) living in Los Angeles shortly after World War II. Laura struggles with the idea that her life has no use other than taking care of her young son and doting husband (John C. Reilly). As she reads "Mrs. Dalloway," she empathizes with its main character. The novel prompts her toward a devastating decision that will forever change her family's destiny. Of the three women, Brown's tale is perhaps the saddest segment of the film. Her failure to complete the simplest task - baking a cake for her husband's birthday - and her desire to find some meaning to her life, absolutely tears at your heart.

The third and final story takes place in modern day New York City. Clarissa Vaughan's (Meryl Streep) life has in its own way, paralleled that of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. She's devoted herself to caring for her best friend and former lover, Richard (Ed Harris), a brilliant poet who is dying of AIDS. Everything she does revolves around giving herself to his care. Clarissa's portion of the tale focuses on the planning and preparation of a party to celebrate an award Richard's set to receive. While planning the party, Clarissa is jolted into the awareness that her own life, her own happiness, and her own needs, have taken a back seat to taking care of Richard.

It's a given that "The Hours" will earn at least one actor an Oscar nomination. However, "The Hours" is a prime example of the need for an Academy Award honoring a movie's cast rather than individual performances. I'd be hard pressed to choose who amongst these actors is more deserving of an award over any of the others. When every single actor so embodies their character that separating the part from the performer is impossible, then nominating one actor over another is an insult to the extraordinary net results of the melding of each actor into his/her character.

Nicole Kidman is brilliant as the unstable Virginia Woolf, Julianne Moore is captivating as Laura Brown, and Meryl Streep turns in yet another amazing performance as Clarissa Vaughan. Also turning in stellar performances are John C. Reilly, Toni Collette, and Ed Harris, whose portrayal of a victim of AIDS is frighteningly realistic.

"The Hours" is a movie for women about women. If you haven't read the book on which the film is based, be advised the story is a bit depressing and you might leave the theater a little more down than when you entered. However that slight sense of depression is well worth the reward of having experienced some of the most profoundly touching performances of the year.

Overall Grade: A

"The Hours" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, some disturbing images and brief language.

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