Timely flick masters style, but lacks solid substance

Ted Pigeon

Stephen Daldry’s new film, “The Hours,” is an absorbing and sometimes powerful film about three women from different times and places, whom share a common link — unhappiness and depression throughout several different eras of history.

Every aspect of this movie is top-notch: performances, screenplay, pacing, editing, score and cinematography. However, despite all of these superior elements, the film contains some surprisingly disappointing elements.

There are a handful of sequences that are very moving, but in the end, this film doesn’t amount to anything more than an exercise in the craft of filmmaking.

Starring in this film are three of the finest actresses in the business: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore. Through the film’s creative opening title sequence, the audience sees that the lives of these three women are connected as the camera intercuts between them in a smooth, transitional manner.

Kidman plays Virginia Woolf, an early 20th century writer trapped within the confines of her own estate for being mentally ill. She writes about her thoughts and feelings with brutal honesty, constantly thinking about what will happen to her central character. When the audience sees her, she is struggling to write her most recent novel, “Mrs. Dalloway,” a book that will influence the lives of two women somewhere down the line.

Julianne Moore plays Laura Brown, a lonely and very depressed housewife in 1950s America. Brown is reading Woolf’s book several years later and, in doing so, is discovering much about herself and her life. She constantly sits quietly with a smile on her face at breakfast and dinner. Her husband (John C. Riley) is completely oblivious to her inner pain, but her son Richie (Jack Rovello) knows something is wrong and shows this in his expression-filled faces every time he looks at his devastated mother.

Meanwhile, in 2001, Clarrisa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is a confident-looking, but ultimately saddened middle-aged woman. She hides her true self from the world as she watches her terminally ill ex-husband (Ed Harris) slowly die. He seems to be sick of trying to fight his illness and would rather give u. He knows of Vaughn’s struggles and asks her frequently what she is going to do when he does, in fact, pass away.

He calls her Mrs. Dalloway rather than her actual name, as she bears many similarities to Woolf’s character.

The film chronicles the lives of these women and shows how they’re interlocked in more ways than one. They all have a similar feeling of loneliness and each of them goes about dealing with her hopelessness in a separate way due to the vastly different worlds in which they live.

The film contrasts how they deal with their struggles in breaking free from their lives. In this sense, the film is very well done. When things begin to unfold among these characters, the emotional connection to the story doesn’t pick up, but rather seems to lose its grip.

The filmmakers seem too focused on creating an artistic way of conveying the emotional connection that they weren’t able to ultimately capture that crucial aspect, simply because they were constantly looking for clever ways to do it. Instead, Philip Glass’s minimalist score is relied on more than it should be and it is used to create the emotional factor in scenes that were poorly handled by the filmmakers in the first place.

It’s a shame to see such talented acting go to waste. “The Hours” has garnered much critical appraise over the past couple of weeks and is currently one of the forerunners in this year’s Oscar race. The reasons for this are many — the performances by the three leads are all noteworthy, the screenplay is well-written and Daldry intercuts between the storylines beautifully.

However, the film as a whole doesn’t have the emotional deepness that it wants to have and should have. The film’s artistic merit calls attention to itself all too often instead of adding to the quality of the film, making “The Hours” a perfect modern example of the importance of balancing style and substance.