Talk about bad timing. In the wake of the disturbing news about the death of actor Paul Walker in a flaming Porsche (shades of James Dean!), along comes the posthumous release of his best, most mature film yet. Set against the turbulence and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, Hours is about a courageous father (Mr. Walker, as Nolan) trapped in a New Orleans hospital after everyone has been evacuated, doing whatever he can to keep his baby alive.
When Nolan admits his wife, Abigail, she’s already in labor, and the storm is already making landfall, propelled by 175-mile-per-hour gales. In the noise, panic and power failures that follow, the baby is born premature, while the mother dies in childbirth, and the understandably grief-stricken husband, now a single father, is forced to cope with the emotional aftershock. Overcrowded and short on staff, the hospital proceeds to shut down, but Nolan defies the orders and stays on, struggling to save the life of his newborn baby girl after the electricity dies, the flood waters rise and the supplies run out, cranking one small generator by hand to keep his daughter’s respirator going. At this point, your typical overstuffed, over-budget Hollywood disaster epic would cue the special effects and turn the storm into a computerized, eardrum-battering, eyeball-straining centerpiece. But writer-director Eric Heisserer keeps the nervous tension under control and the suspense mounting with admirable restraint and minimal clichés.
It’s not the movie that seems far-fetched. Everything in it happened to the people of New Orleans who survived the horrors of Katrina (some of the bodies of hospital patients too weak and disabled to move have never been found). What borders on the incredulous is the risks, dangers and boundless feats of raw courage faced by one man alone, without experience and without aid. Invaded by murderous vandals, nursing personal injuries, rescuing a lost dog and waving at the rooftop helicopters that desert him while he screams in vain for help, he can still change a diaper and refill an I.V. drip for 48 hours without food, water or flushable toilets. What a guy.
Playing the shifting stages of frustration, anxiety, rage, terror and resolve, Mr. Walker is forceful, dynamic and totally believable. As a star on the rise, he’s handsome and charismatic. As co-producer, he seems concentrated on getting everything right, and he does. Usually shackled to the dramatic limitations of B-movie thrills like the action programmers in the Fast and Furious franchise, he gets a welcome opportunity to display his considerable range and talent. What a sad thing to see a career nipped in the bud when it was just getting started.
WRITTEN BY Eric Heisserer
DIRECTED BY Eric Heisserer
STARRING Genesis Rodriguez, Paul Walker and Nick Gomez
RUNNING TIME 97 min.