I find it touching that Paul Walker’s last completed film before his untimely death would be an indie about saving a child’s life. Walker had parlayed his boyish, Southern-Cal charm in the likes of “Pleasantville” and “Varsity Blues” to star in action vehicles like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Running Scared.” Unfortunately, these movies didn’t require much more than having cool hair and either smiling or grimacing. So it’s good to see actors, like Walker, take on roles every now and then that require them to stretch muscles they don’t usually use.
“Hours” is a fictional film set in New Orleans during the tumultuous onset of Hurricane Katrina. In the early morning hours of August 29, 2005 Nolan Hayes (Walker) rushes his pregnant wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) to the ER for some kind of complication (that is never explained). The last thing that Nolan tells his wife is that everything will be okay. And as Katrina’s gusts blast through the glass walls of the waiting room, Abigail gives birth and dies.
Doctor Edmonds (Yohance Myles) takes Nolan to the room where his baby girl, born five weeks premature, is hooked up to a ventilator and IV. She must stay in the incubator for the next 48 hours, the doctor tells him. But Nolan is (rightly) worried about the storm outside and whether it will pose a threat to his daughter’s safety. Not to worry, though. He’s told that hospital staff will always be present and, should the power go out, the generators will kick in. Very quickly, however, everyone is told to evacuate. And since little Abbie (named after her mother) cannot travel in her incubator, Nolan decides to stay and wait for help.
Overall the movie is a mixed bag of sorts. It struck me as odd that (spoiler alert) Nolan would act so stand-offishly, at first, with his new daughter. It’s almost as if the thought never crossed his mind that she existed until his wife was dead. As a matter of fact, Nolan’s first words to little Abbie are, “I don’t know you,” which, rather, sounds more like, “I don’t want you.” Perhaps that’s where the filmmakers were going with this. But the audience is never included in any back story suggesting that Nolan didn’t want to be a father. So the initial tension directed towards his daughter simply falls flat.
Soon Nolan must hand crank a battery charger every three minutes to keep Abbie’s ventilator running. This film device seemed interesting at first, until I realized that everything else Nolan must do (which is a lot) can only be done in less than three minutes. That means that, when the generator goes out, Nolan must search for it (on a different floor) and figure out how to fix it in less than three minutes. It also means that he must sprint down the stairs and out the lobby (that’s half underwater) in order to reach help on an ambulance radio and then dash back to his daughter’s room in, you guessed it, three minutes. While I understand that the point is to build tension, the movie stretches three minutes entirely way too far to be taken seriously.
Also, it must be said, Nolan and Abigail’s backstory (introduced through flashbacks) is so ridiculously absurd that it almost feels like watching two stories: the first, an earnest tale of a father’s love; and the second, an awkward rom-com starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey. But, even through the flawed script, poor production issues, and sub-par acting, Walker manages pretty well. He especially shines in moments where his character is at his lowest and most vulnerable.
Several scenes were especially well done. One in particular resonated with me as probably the most realistic of the film. A looter surprises Nolan who mistakes him at first for a rescue worker. When the looter pulls a gun on him and begins to steal his food, Nolan pleads with him: “Look at my situation, man. Look at the baby. Don’t you go and start taking my food! I need help.”
Most refreshing to me was the biblical worldview represented in Walker’s protection of his child. The Bible affirms the value of human life teaching that God knew us before we were conceived (Jeremiah 1:5). We have been ordained by God’s plans for our lives starting in the womb (Judges 13:7; Isaiah 49:1; Galatians 1:15). So it doesn’t seem out of place in the least for God to issue this Old Testament decree: “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely… if there is any further injury [to the child], then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Exodus 21:22-24). We can, therefore, extrapolate from Scripture the precious nature of the life of a child (either unborn or newly-born).
The mental and physical struggles that Nolan endures in order to keep Abbie alive reflect the Bible’s teaching on this issue. Several times throughout the film, Nolan is faced with a choice: either stop turning the crank and save himself or keep turning the crank and risk (his and Abbie’s) death. I think this movie would have been much more compelling to watch had the character of Nolan been a complete stranger to Abbie. In this new scenario, the sanctity of life would have been more overtly demonstrated since a total stranger would have felt compelled to keep her alive. Nevertheless this notion is still sufficiently conveyed with Nolan as Abbie’s father.
In an interview for the film, Walker talked about how playing Nolan was “the easiest” role for him and that he “told the truth as much as [he] could” with regard to his character’s struggle to keep his baby alive. I think this ultimately reflects the innate quality in us all that a child’s life should be protected. We know, as the apostle Paul points out in Romans 2:14-15, that human beings have God’s Law written on their hearts (whether people want to admit it or not). Therefore, I don’t find it surprising that Walker would acknowledge, in a roundabout sense, a child’s right to life. His character, Nolan, doesn’t just do what a parent would in that kind of situation. He does what I believe any God-fearing person would do to honor the Lord’s attitude towards preserving innocent life.
I’m sure Paul Walker fans will want this movie to do well, and it does in parts. But what it’s lacking is noticeable enough to suggest skipping the theater and catching it as a rental. The Christian elements in the film are implicit but can still be teased out for a pointed discussion on the sanctity of innocent life.
“Hours” is rated PG-13 for language, prescription drug use, and some violence.