A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
On this day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina touched down for the second time in Louisiana, USA.
The seventh most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded up to that point (three of the other six were also from the 2005 hurricane season), it was the costliest natural disaster the country has ever had to bear.
The hurricane had formed to the south east of the Bahamas on 23 August 2005, at which point it was termed a tropical depression. By the next morning it had developed into a tropical storm, and was given the name Katrina. As it moved towards Florida it gained in intensity, becoming a hurricane just two hours before it arrived between Hallandale Beach and Aventura.
It weakened over land, but once it was back over the Gulf of Mexico it picked up strength, growing from a category 3 to category 5 in nine hours. This unusually rapid speed of development was down to the unusually warm waters in the Gulf at the time.
At its peak, on 28 August, Hurricane Katrina was producing sustained wind speeds of 175mph (280kmh).
Its second touchdown was its most destructive. In all it killed 1,833 people. Many of the deaths happened in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the levee system designed to keep flood water away from the city failed, resulting in around 80% of the city flooding.
Hours (2013, dir: Eric Heisserer)
The saddest thing about Hours is that it came out just after its star, Paul Walker, had died. Sad because he’s very good in it, a revelation after becoming an increasing irrelevance in the Fast and Furious films, especially once Dwayne Johnson had arrived, a more obvious opposite number to Vin Diesel, giving Walker little to do except mutter “what he said” now and again.
Hours shows a between-projects slightly paunchy Walker trying to regain control of his career, in a small film that probably cost buttons to make and which requires him to actually act. He pulls it off. And in case you think this is fanboy talk, I never really rated him.
So, the plot: Walker plays a guy in New Orleans who loses his wife in childbirth. Then Katrina hits, the hospital’s power goes out and everyone is evacuated. Except for Walker and his new premature child, too delicate to move and inside a respirator with its own power source.
Except that the power source goes out and the respirator is now on a battery backup. Then that starts to malfunction. And the baby’s drip runs out. And so on.
Jeopardy, in other words, one new challenge after another for the man to solve or else his baby dies. This is what they call “stakes”, I believe, and Walker plays it well and for real. And largely in semi-darkness. Though we have seen him in the full light of day – in flashback scenes that show him and the baby’s mother meet-cuting, courting, falling in love, and so on. They’re lovely scenes, between Walker and Genesis Rodriguez, and if the stories are true that they were an item, it’s easy to believe (and makes the film even more poignant).
A couple of doctors (until they leave), Genesis Rodriguez and enough people to make up a dinner party for one scene, a couple of bad guys who arrive later on to add more jeopardy when Walker’s travails with machinery, power supply and medication are threatening to yield diminished returns, there really isn’t a very big cast for this film. And the set – a couple of rooms and an empty corridor. Lighting – barely.
Which means that the onus falls on Walker, who rises to the challenge, occasionally being a bit actorly, it’s true, but behaving for the most part as you’d expect a man in the situation to do – taking on responsibility, trying to keep panic at bay.
Eric Heisserer’s script does something similar, getting a bit Hollywood-melodramatic here and there, particularly at the end (no spoilers) which goes all out for a big finish, which it has entirely earned. But on the whole it’s a clever and tight piece of work that does an awful lot with very little – a high concept piece, in fact.
Hours isn’t a big film, but it is a good one. And that, at the end of the day (particularly at the end of the day) is really all you want.
- One of Paul Walker’s best (and last) films
- A fine directing debut by Eric Heisserer
- A screenplay that builds jeopardy expertly
- Jaron Presant’s low-key cinematography
© Steve Morrissey 2014
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