SXSW 2013 Review: HOURS Makes the Mistake of Putting All Its Dramatic Weight on Paul Walker's Shoulders

Eric D. Snider, Featured Critic

All human beings have a talent for one thing or another, and Paul Walker is a human being, so Paul Walker undoubtedly is good at something. But whatever it is, it's not acting. Acting is not the thing Paul Walker is good at. He's harmless enough in the Fast and the Furious movies, where little acting is required and where he has equally blank-faced scene partners (Vin Diesel, cars, etc.) to offset him, but it would be a bad idea to put him in, say, an emotional drama that's essentially a one-man show.

Yet that's exactly what has been done with Hours, a dimwitted, unintentionally funny melodrama starring Walker as a man stuck in an abandoned hospital during Hurricane Katrina with no one to talk to but himself, his ventilator-reliant newborn infant, and a rescue dog. Oh, and the ventilator itself. He talks to it sometimes, too. The power is out, and the ventilator's backup battery only holds a charge for a few minutes at a time before he has to hand-crank the generator again. "You're playing dirty, Mr. Machine!" he hollers at the machine.

Anyway, the point is, Walker is the only person in the movie most of the time, and it's as bad as it sounds like it would be.

Walker's character, Nolan Hayes, arrives at the hospital with his wife, Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez), just as Katrina is hitting New Orleans. Abigail isn't due for another five weeks, but she's in labor now, delivering a frail but resilient baby girl and dying in the attempt. Nolan is devastated. Nearly as devastating: the endless, cringe-worthy scenes of Walker moving through the stages of grief like a first-year acting student trying to impress his professor.

Though he'd planned to name the baby Hailey, Nolan decides now to name her Abigail, in memory of her mother. Glossed over is the fact that until now, he was going to name his daughter Hailey Hayes, which would have made her fit only for a career as a superhero's girlfriend.

The hospital is evacuated when the electricity goes out, but baby Abigail's ventilator is too heavy to permit transport, and its battery, as mentioned, is almost useless. Nolan has to stay nearby and crank the generator every three minutes. In between, he dashes out to look for possible rescue or assistance strategies, dashing back when his three minutes are up to recharge the battery. One of the film's paradoxes is that even though he knows he only has three minutes, he rarely seems to be in much of a hurry, walking briskly (sometimes even dawdlingly) when a sprint would be more efficient. Look, Paul Walker, if YOU'RE not convinced that your situation is desperate, why should I be?

That is the problem in a nutshell: Walker is not convincing. Not as a grieving husband, not as a frantic father, not as an exhausted man deprived of food and sleep for 48 hours. Flashbacks to his life with Abigail demonstrate that he wasn't convincing when times were happier, either. There's a scene where he runs -- really runs -- up five flights of stairs to the roof to try to get a helicopter's attention, and is then so depleted he has to stop and catch his breath before he can hurry back to recharge the ventilator. Stopping means his baby could die, but he is physically unable to continue. Yet watching him, you think: You don't look that tired. You're barely sweating, hardly even breathing hard. You're not doubled over, collapsed with exhaustion.

In other words, Paul Walker is so bad at acting that he cannot convey "tiredness" in a character who just ran up five flights of stairs.

It's not all running up stairs and screaming at ventilators, though. There are also quiet moments when Nolan sits and talks to his baby. He goes through the artifacts in his wallet, pulling out something that reminds him of his grandfather. "Now there's someone I would have liked you to meet," he muses. "You two are quite alike, really." UGH.

This dialogue was written by Eric Heisserer, who worked on the screenplays for Final Destination 5 and the remakes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing. Now he's directing for the first time. It's possible that his lackluster script, with its go-nowhere plotting and surface-level emotions, could have been rendered watchable by a talented and charismatic actor. But with Walker, it never stood a chance. He's just not up to the challenge of carrying every scene by himself for an entire movie.

Around the Internet:
  • Guest

    You Eric Snider are a horrible critic. I realize being a critic is something any douchebag can do and it doesn't take one iota of talent to actually be one. It does however take someone with at least half a brain, and you sir are obviously don't have what it takes ( you know with missing your entire brain and all).

  • Lady Liberty

    He wrote it on March 14 2013, 8:00 for God's sake!
    By the way, he's a great critic.

  • Norman Dostal

    It's sad that in one of his last films, he is so bad. He's always been a handsome prop though-and a good man

  • Grant Vinokur

    Paul Walkers death aside, it seems at the time you wrote this you already had a negative opinion of him and other people from his previous movies. Walker was actually surprisingly good in hours. Than again I always wonder why we have movie critics, Generally critics are the guys knocking the films making 100 Million dollars and praising he box office flops. The only thing flopping here today though is your weak and biased review.

  • Norman Dostal

    Come on, dumdum-eveyroen is sayign Paul is terribel in this-crawl out of his butt please

  • Love to Hate and Hate to Love

    Well the fact that it has a 50 percent on Rottentomatoes means that not all critics are saying its terrible. Step back from drinking your haterade and be slightly objective. Dead or not (doesn't matter) you must of really hated him.

  • TapewormBike

    It is tragic that Walker died, but that does not make him retroactively good in his roles.

  • Danny

    I completely agree with 'James' on this one, the critic is unecessarily insensitive therefore he will never be a Grade A Critic.

  • Norman Dostal

    Danny-dumb-you dont praise craap-no matter what (and the review was written months ago, dumdum)

  • Insensitive to what, exactly? The feelings of Walker's fans 9 months after the review was written? Suck it up. He didn't like a performance in a movie. It's not the end of the world. And, frankly, it's his job to say so. The 'Paul Walker is awesome in everything he does or did' cheerleading can be left to his PR reps. That's what they're paid for. Our job is to honestly relay our opinions of the work at hand.

  • Lilaios

    paul walker wasnt a another marlon brando but i think he was a decent actor. this review also inappropriate this time.

  • Norman Dostal

    Liliaios-shut up, moron-you dont give a bad movie a break because the bad actor in it died-stupid...

  • Love to Hate and Hate to Love

    Norman you sound like such a douche. Keep it up!

  • This review was written nine months ago and is just as accurate now as it was then. You don't get to go seeking out history and then gripe about it being inappropriate because circumstances have changed since.

  • bombinUSA

    i hope the reviewer dies in a fiery car crash.

  • Ard Vijn

    No you don't.

  • bombinUSA

    oh yes i do!

  • Ard Vijn

    What a bizarre hope then.

  • bombinUSA

    he said paul walker was a miserable actor, when actuality the man has taken major steps into becoming a quality one. now that paul walker has passed the reviewer should apologize or karma is gonna bite him in his ass and it will come in the way of a fiery car accident.

  • Ard Vijn

    Still bizarre. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. The reviewer sure didn't wish this on Paul Walker when he wrote this review nine months ago. I totally do not understand the way you think.

  • You're assuming the troll thinks.

  • Take your trolling elsewhere.

  • Steven Peterson

    BREAKING:Paul Walker can be a great guy and sadly missed and also a bad actor. Its not hard to reconcile those facts in the human brain.

  • DG3

    Well said. Walker was ok in the roles he played, but certainly had no range as an actor. And I don't think reviewers should have to worry about being critical because an actor they skewed would die.

  • Kadesh Hamp

    All human beings have a talent for one thing or another, and Eric Snider is a human being, so Eric Snider undoubtedly is good at something. But whatever it is, it's not reviewing movies!

  • DG3

    And YOUR talent is not in posting comments.

  • Mina Bontempo

    I had forgotten that some jerk wrote this review and that I made a comment on it!

  • D'Zunnur Chauntique

    really enjoyed n touched with this movie...RIP Paul!

  • zzzz

    inexperienced director , liked the acting.. I watched this movie for Paul

  • Little Man Tate

    Hey, you know what epitomizes shitty journalism?

    "Anyway, the point is, Walker is the only person in the movie most of the time, and it's as bad as it sounds like it would be."

    ...Nuggets like this. Lazily presuming any given reader is both familiar with Paul Walker and shares your opinion of his thespian abilities (they almost undoubtedly are and most likely do, but it's beside the point).

  • Afzal Hossain

    can i just say these words "dont give a shit about ur review" aaaaah i feel good now

  • Cary Macleod

    I have seen many films with Paul Walker he can act. A mostly one man movie is not something that interests me. Castaway was good but it's not a watch it more than once film.

    Thanks for the info it is mostly one person but you can't review your way out of a paper bag

  • Norman Dostal

    wrong of course-name one movie in which Paul showed acting chops-he's a handsome prop

  • Karen Thompson Vaughn

    'Running Scared'

  • Mina Bontempo

    What a shocking review. How can someone be so insensible to Paul Walker's undeniable talent.

  • Nematocyte

    Sorry, but for every movie that Walker is decent in as an actor, I can count at least 5 where he is average to well below-average. Nice guy, great looking and I'm sure he would make a good friend, but he is a sub-par actor.

  • Mina Bontempo

    I don't care if he's good since he's likable. We are not speaking about literature or music but film and aura. And what is GOOD? Good is Christopher Walken, Tadanobu Asano, Bulle Ogier, Francis Ng, Anne Bancroft, Lau-Ching Wan, Alan Arkin, Anita Yuen, Bruno Ganz, Bruce Dern, Sandra Ng, etc! Damn, I hate Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line, preposterous film and performance, and that's just one instance!
    The Lazarus Project, Hours, Vehicle 19, Running Scared, don't you see a pattern, something that made him particular, if not good? and as someone said it elsewhere:"one of Walker's most attractive qualities,.besides literally being so attractive, was his refusal to take on the image of celebrity and present himself as simply an actor", which makes him a lot more interesting to me than a lot of other - and more recognized, self-infatuated - actors. It depends on what you are looking for.

    And if you're impervious to that, okay, not-so-obvious side of his acting, that doesn't mean that someone should be as disrespectful and conspicuously condescending as the author of this review. That's what I had already said here several months before his death.

  • James

    I'm sure you're good at something too. But you're not good at reviewing films.

  • Norman Dostal

    come on, dumdum, the movie is getting terrible reviews-the author is right. Let me guess-gay gay crushing on Paul?

  • Mina Bontempo

    that's smart.

    jerk.

  • justjoe

    Don´t be to harsh on Paul Walker. He was quite good in Running Scared.

  • Vic

    I saw this film yesterday at its first ever screening at sxsw. The premise alone was enough of me to watch it, but as you said Paul Walker could not carry this alone, but then again it I don't think it was his job to. When the director admitted afterwards (at the Q&A ) that this was his directorial debut everything I hated about Hours suddenly made sense. Paul Walker was the only thing that kept me from hating this movie entirely. I could literally feel him struggling to make this film work alongside poor directing choices (such as saying everything out loud that he is about to, even though its freaking obvious cause he doing it). I feel this is a harsh critism of Paul Walker doing his best under the control of a director who doesn't understand how to translate script to screen dramatically, "Show don't tell" was the biggest thing I took from this film and I felt that Paul Walkers performance was the only thing that made scenes just watchable and he was literally an underdog doing his best amongst an inexperienced director who should know better than to direct this type of film with no experience.

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