“Hours works because, once more, it proves a little story can go a long way thematically…”

by Steve Pulaski

Hours is a taut little suspense thriller concerning a father’s worst nightmare – the safety of his child jeopardized due to something he cannot control. Paul Walker plays Nolan, a man who has just witnessed two things he’ll never forget: the birth of his infant daughter and the death of his wife (Genesis Rodriguez) during the birth. As a result, his infant daughter is hooked up to a ventilator and must stay on there indefinitely. This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if they weren’t in New Orleans at the end of August in 2005, otherwise known as the time Hurricane Katrina ravaged the area and much of the southern United States.

Directed by
Eric Heisserer
Genesis Rodriguez, Paul Walker, Nick Gomez
Release Date
13 December 2013
Steve’s Grade: B

After the hospital’s power shuts off and most of the hospital staff has fled or been killed, Nolan now has a responsibility few could bear. He must keep his daughter alive on a ventilator using a crankable generator, allowing the battery to maintain life on its own for about two to three minutes at a time before needing another crank. He must stay with his daughter, fighting to keep her alive on the ventilator and himself alive with limited food resources, as well as making several attempts to contact law enforcement and the Coast Guard during a time of grave uncertainty.

During the first half of Hours, I had a hard time suspending disbelief for its premise, despite its realistic setup. It’s a far cry to assume all or most hospital personnel would evacuate and leave patients (even though we don’t see any of them in the hospital) stranded to fend for themselves. It’s an issue I took note of early on, however, forgave as I saw where first-time writer/director Eric Heisserer was going with his premise. He seemed to be constructing a story focused on one-setting that concerned the idea of dying while attempting to save someone else. We often hear such colloquial expressions from people such as “I’ll take a bullet for you,” “I’d kill for them” etc, and the use of such expressions are usually linked to spur-of-the-moment reactions or impulsive statements due to current circumstances. As time goes on in Hours, however, we get the feeling that Nolan would indeed take a bullet for his daughter and his constant fight for survival gradually shifts from an even focus on keeping both of them alive to keeping the youngest one alive.

This idea wouldn’t have been half as good, given the already obscure instance of there being no other patients in the hospital, if Paul Walker wasn’t so capable as Nolan. Walker has been another actor who always finds ways to make his character work but constantly gets stuck between a rock and a hard place with action films that don’t give him any sense of personality or challenge. Here, he needs to find a comfortable state, inhabiting a character that is very shaky in terms of stability but also very determined to help somebody other than himself for the greater good of their being. In a way, this embodies much of the story of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hours works because, once more, it proves a little story can go a long way thematically and that bigger, deeper themes can surface when there’s small-scale filmmaking at hand. The only other trap that is evident with Heisserer’s product is that it suffers from something many independent suspense and horror films do and that’s a lack of efficient lighting. Several scenes later in Hours become very hard to see and lack enough lighting to even see and distinguish placement and current events taking place. However, given Heisserer’s thematic ambition with this project and the quality of his directorial debut overall, I can see his production values increasing for the better over time.

NOTE: On November 30, 2013, the same day I watched and reviewed Hours, Paul Walker died in a car accident. My condolences are with the family and my deepest sympathies are offered. If only I knew when watching Hours I was watching one of the last performances by a great actor.