Hurricane Katrina rolled into Bloomington, Indiana. Torrential rail unlike anything I'd seen but nothing like the hell experienced by those in New Orleans during the hurricane. For a very interesting story about one man, check out 2013's Hours, a film that didn't get a theatrical release I'm aware of, but it certainly deserved one.
As Hurricane Katrina descends on New Orleans in August 2005, Nolan Hayes (Paul Walker) brings his pregnant wife, Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), to the hospital as she deals with some horrific pain. Doctors tell him to wait in the waiting room, and an hour or so later he's dealt both amazingly good and horrifically bad news. He has a daughter, but Abigail died giving birth. Nolan doesn't know how to handle both pieces of news, but he doesn't have time to think. Katrina is throwing the brunt of its strength at the city -- including the hospital -- and almost the entire staff and every patient that can be moved is being evacuated. Nolan on the other hand is going nowhere. His prematurely born infant daughter is in an incubator that's helping her breathe. The doctor's estimate on when she can breathe on her own? Two days...hopefully. Responsible for running a backup generator with an ever-decreasing battery, Nolan keeps his daughter alive and waits. And waits. And waits for help.
Most of six months since his tragic, surprising death in November 2013, it's still hard to believe Paul Walker is dead. He will be in the next Fast and Furious in some fashion or another, and he has another movie scheduled to come out in the coming weeks, Brick Mansions. So for Walker fans, embrace these movies, appreciate them. Unless I missed it, I don't remember seeing this film from director Eric Heisserer (also writing the screenplay) in theaters at all. Why was that? No idea in the least. Probably because it isn't a movie that's going to break box office records. Instead, it's a brutally straightforward premise with a touch of realism and authenticity with Hurricane Katrina serving as a backdrop to a very emotional story. No theater run, no problem. This was a pretty good movie.
I would wager most people are aware of Paul Walker because of the Fast and Furious movies, myself included. I've never thought of him as a great actor, but more a likable, charming star with a solid on-screen presence. I know I'm not alone in that sentiment. Well, this movie does a good job proving otherwise. Paul Walker can act and can do it well. While there are other speaking parts, this is almost the film equivalent of a one-man show. Walker's Nolan is in every scene in the movie. This is an emotional part, a husband and new father forced to deal with a whole lot on his plate in a hellish situation. We see him get worn down over the course of the movie, see the exhaustion in his eyes and face as his impossible situation gets worse and worse. Movie star or actor -- your call -- Walker is a very natural on-screen presence so it's cool to see him embrace such a quality dramatic performance and run with it.
What works so well though isn't just the big moments. It's the quiet moments. The trailer (link below) would have you think this is an action-packed, thrill a minute kind of movie. It isn't. The moments that resonate are those of a father bonding with his newborn daughter, helpless and dependent on a machine to keep her breathing. He sits next to her and winds up the backup generator every three minutes so the battery won't run out. Nolan sits and simply talks to his daughter, telling her about him, about his life, her mom, and how they met. These could be sappy, even cheesy moments, but they work. We also get three or four quick flashback scenes as we see how Nolan met Abigail, them at a dinner party, getting ready for said party. It's just really quick scenes -- a minute or two here and there -- but it helps to humanize Nolan as he tries to bring his daughter through the ordeal. The situation is extreme enough that you're rooting for him, but that human element goes a long way.
Rodriguez is very good in a small part as Abigail, relegated to those handful of flashbacks. She has an excellent chemistry with Walker, two halfway decent looking people if there ever were. The rest of the cast is limited to small parts of the people Nolan meets during the storm, including a doctor, a nurse, a cook in the cafeteria, a rescue dog with an injury, three different looters (two more dangerous than the first) and a lone voice at the other end of the radio. This is Walker's movie, the focus is clearly on him, and he doesn't disappoint.
Wrapping up in 97 minutes, 'Hours' drags a little at times in the second half. There's only so much you can have him do in such a situation before it becomes either dull or repetitive. At the same time, Nolan seems to accomplish a lot in the 2-to-3 minutes he has before he's got to recharge the ever-dwindling battery. It needs to happen for the sake of the story so it's not a huge issue, but it is something I noticed as the story develops. These are flaws but nothing that cripples the movie as a whole. An interesting movie that deserved more of a theatrical release, more positive buzz in the news. Something, anything. It's an excellent, tense film with a highly emotional ending, including a great final shot. Definitely worth checking out.
Hours (2013): ***/****