Watching "The Hours" is much like reading a great novel. The same exhaustive detail and careful introspection is there. The movie has a rhythm and a pace often created in novels. It brings you into the lives of these three women, alternating around until you feel like you are following a braid that loops in and out and around--or like a patchwork quilt that comes together in the end as one great and intricate entity.
Indeed, perhaps the zenith of this film's strength comes when the movie connects all three stories. This doesn't particularly happen at the end of the movie--you just know all the pieces by the end of the movie. I won't reveal when it all really comes together, but there is a tangible and also a somewhat, dare I say, psychic connection. Virginia Woolf reveals it when she is discussing with Leonard towards the end her feelings on who must die in "Mrs. Dalloway" and why. It's eerie, perhaps more frightening than some whole thrillers--that one moment--because it demonstrates that to really be moved, you must care about these characters first.
I won't divulge on the whole plot or reveal important points or the heart-wrenching twist towards the end that could quite easily bring the the most calloused moviegoer to tears--no mention of how shocking it is, reminiscent of the shock of realizing "The Sixth Sense"'s big twist, while that is completely different in subject--but I will say this: this movie is perhaps one of the greatest movies ever made. Without a doubt. I know we all must wait thirty years before we even think of lauding a movie with such praise, but between the brilliant acting, casting, directing, cinematography, music, and editing--really, the kind of movie that makes you realize how great even editing can be--I really don't think there are many movies, particularly of this time, that get much better than this. Something happens in 1951 to Laura Brown, then the movie jumps to 1923 and Virginia Woolf asks the question you know Laura's asking in her mind. Clarissa looks around a room in 2001, and Laura says something that seems the perfect observation of what she sees, while she is talking about something completely different. The whole movie just keeps intertwining the stories, until after a while, you forget they are three different stories, and realize they come together as one single story.
I think this movie would be nothing without its actors. What makes their performances so great is that we have seen all of these actors as completely different performers, and here, they have completely transformed themselves. If Nicole Kidman was the kind of actress who often played grossly depressed, suffocating, introspective people like Virginia Woolf, this performance would be a piece of cake. Instead she plays beautiful, charming love interests with flowing blonde hair and glistening smiles. Forget the fake nose--she transforms everything about herself to play this role.
Meryl Streep proves once again why she is simply one of the greatest film actresses of all time. She has this abundant energy and power around her, and not a word of dialogue that comes out of her mouth sounds forced or awkward. And the woman is a master of crying scenes. While her crying sequence here--the breakdown in the kitchen--feels slightly requisite--though only because people come to expect and enjoy a good cry out of Meryl--she does it so well. Yet she is more moving in her desperate attempts to not cry, to not feel anything, to not "hear the silence," as Richard notes. You simply believe it, every second she's on the screen.
And then there's Julianne Moore, really one of my favorite actresses. The woman is heartbreaking, she really is. And she's another one who has this great ability to handle crying scenes. When she leaves her son with Mrs. Latch, and tries desperately to hold herself together as she walks away, and then with all her strength, manages to keep her voice steady as she calls out a goodbye--amazing. Her best scene, though, is in the bathroom as Dan is calling her to bed. You almost never want the scene to end; you hang on to every second. You want her to keep herself together, and you know she can't. It makes you wonder what Moore goes through to manage these scenes. They are emotionally draining to just watch.
And then there's the supporting cast, that practically steals the movie from the three leads. Ed Harris as Richard is awesome; another performance that makes you wonder how he did it. It's just so not him. Stephen Dillane as Leonard has this constant desperation and struggle to maintain a delicate balance in the house. He matches moment for moment with Kidman in the hopefully-soon-to-be-infamous train station sequence. John C. Reilly as Dan is a wonder; he is another one of my favorites. He's just a brilliant actor and so incredibly admirable for his understanding dialogue and character. Miranda Richardson as Vanessa is perfect as a woman almost as out of her mind as her sister, but in a different, more functioning way. She's perfectly nuanced. Toni Collette as Kitty is very reminiscent of the kind of character that would appear in "Far From Heaven," also starring Julianne Moore. She's that perfectly happy 50s suburban housewife on the outside, and all full of disappointment and terror on the inside. With only the one scene, as most of these characters only get, she's incredible. And Allison Janney as Sally practically seals the show, which seems impossible. She has incredible timing and understanding of moments of dialogue and silence. And dare I ask, what is happening in that first scene with her--actually, the first scene of New York, 2001? There's another subplot there that brings up a bunch of new questions. Perhaps this is in the book?
Rounding out the cast, Claire Danes is perfect as the intuitive daughter who's just about grown up, or at least enough to be on the same intellectual level as her mother. Jack Rovello is adorable and heartbreaking as Laura's momma's boy son, who, above all, is afraid for her. And the young Sophie Wyburd's ability to connect with Kidman's Woolf and have some sort of mutual understanding with her on certain matters is incredibly impressive. Eileen Atkins is charming in a small role as the owner of the flower shop; she was also in the brilliant movie "Wit" and I've always liked her since then. Last but not least is Jeff Daniels giving the best performance of his whole career as Louis Waters. Once again, one scene, but you get the feeling for his whole character in that one scene, and there's such depth and nuance to his delivery.
"The Hours" definitely deserved to be named Best Picture at the Academy Awards--it succeeds in practically every aspect possible. I do think all of the actors nominated from this film should have been given Oscars--namely Julianne Moore, but no less Ed Harris and Meryl Streep.
I recommend watching "The Hours" very closely and appreciating the small connections director Stephen Dillane displays between his characters. There is one very large connection of the three, but that would almost seem incomplete without realizing these small connections, these small moments that make the film so incredibly brilliant.