Julianne Moore received her third/fourth Oscar nomination for her performance as Laura Brown in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. She was also nominated in 2002 for her lead performance in Far From Heaven. As far as Oscar favorites go, The Hours is definitely an atypical film to receive nine nominations be that it is a female-centric drama with gay undertones and is undoubtedly a downer of a film. It focuses on the lives of three women living in different time periods and how Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway connects them. Nicole Kidman plays Woolf herself in the midst of writing the novel, Julianne Moore plays a depressed, pregnant housewife finding an escape in the novel, and Meryl Streep is (sort of) a version of the novel's titular character preparing for a party for her AIDs-afflicted ex-lover. It's an fascinating and surprisingly engaging movie that is harder to love than its Best Picture competition, but contains many great performances. Of the three main leading ladies, I'd rate Julianne Moore's performance as my second favorite, eclipsed slightly by the more understated work of Meryl Streep but much better than Nicole Kidman's haunting yet one-note Oscar-winning performance.
Laura Brown is a 1950s housewife unhappy in her marriage to Dan (John C. Reilly), a veteran of World War II. She spends her days taking care of her young son Richie (Jack Rovello) and struggling to find meaning in her menial wifely duties. Julianne Moore takes a unique, hypnotic approach in expressing Laura's deep lack of satisfaction in her life. She really doesn't have a lot of huge emotional (aka "Oscar") moments, but instead relies on expressing her depression through an absolutely haunting stillness. She's nearly catatonic in the majority of her scenes, simply stripped of any happiness or liveliness. She has an ethereal, otherworldly quality that is so interesting and entrancing and effective at showing how little in the world this woman seems to care about.
Moore also pulls off making Laura sympathetic despite the deeply unsympathetic nature of her character. John C. Reilly is quite adorable and charming as her husband, and Jack Rovello is an adorable if limited child actor. It is clear that Laura's dissatisfaction life comes from within herself, not her family, and as hard as she tries to perform her duties like she is expected even the simplest task become arduous and tiresome for her. We get a glimpse into the roots of Laura's dissatisfaction when her neighbor and friend Kitty (Toni Collette) visits to ask Laura to feed her dog for a few days as she undergoes surgery. In this scene we see Laura open up and express her first real emotion besides sadness as she comforts Kitty and shows genuine affection towards her that clearly doesn't exist between her and her husband. It becomes clear that due to the time period she is living in, Laura isn't allowed the freedom to live life as she would like and she feels trapped in the stereotypes of the era. This encounter with Kitty leads to a kiss between the two women, and it is that kiss that pushes Laura to want to escape her life by any means and adds a further gay subtext to the performance.
The most affecting scene in the film is when Laura drops her son off at a neighbor's house so she can go to a hotel and kill herself. The emotional attachment that Richie has to his mother is made clear from the beginning, even if her love for him cannot overpower her distaste of her life. As he screams out for his mother as she abandons him, Moore is devastating in her portrayal of the emotional struggle her character is facing in making this decision. She knows that on some level her son knows she intends to leave him permanently, and that makes the decision even harder for her to make.
For the rest of her performance she returns to the same notes she traverses at the beginning of the film, that unsettling stillness and emotional barrenness. The scene of her pondering killing herself is surprisingly unemotional, partially because it is intercut with a voice over by Kidman's Woolf deciding whether or not to kill her heroine. Her performance for the rest of the film expresses my main complaint with this performance, that being that it is a fairly one note performance with a few great scenes of emotional variation and the rest of the film spent being simply morose. She nails that one note, and so affecting at it but ultimately I found the role a little too limiting for Moore to overcome completely. We see how sad this woman is and feel sympathy for her, but Moore isn't allowed a chance to put too much reasoning behind the sadness with the exception of the brief kitchen scene and that makes her character slightly flat.
The final scene of the film allows her to put a nice little bow on the top of her performance, as we see what became of Laura Brown in the future sequence and the film pounds home the underlying themes of her character. She's honest and open about her decisions and life and shows no remorse for what she did because it was the best thing for her to do. I'm glad they allowed Moore to play the older version of the character, because she retains the same haunting qualities and gives a fuller performance. This is a very good performance from Julianne Moore, and one that is unique and melancholic. It fits in well with the tone of her film, and shows off Moore's consummate ability to turn in compelling performances. Even when she's not allowed too much variation, she is nothing but watchable and memorable. 4/5 Thelmas.