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Film review: Hours, The

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If ever a movie deserved to be a called a real bummer, it's "The Hours." As fine a movie as it is, this drama is one of most downbeat, dreary films to come along in quite some time.

That's because "The Hours" deals with such adult themes as suicide, marital unhappiness, mental illness and terminal illness. Unfortunately, that also means the film stands at least a fair chance of turning off some potential audience members, who might shy away after hearing what it's about.

If they do, it'll be their loss. "The Hours" features some terrific performances and is one of the best-directed pictures of last year.

The film follows three different stories in three different time periods — all connected by Virginia Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway":

— In 1920s London, Woolf (Nicole Kidman, wearing a nasal prosthesis that makes her nearly unrecognizable) is attempting to write her first great work, which taxes her already-fragile mental state and upsets her marriage.

— In '50s-era Los Angeles, housewife and mother Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) is reading "Mrs. Dalloway" and, as a result, begins thinking about making a drastic change in her life.

— And in present-day New York City, Clarissa Vaughn (Meryl Streep) is feeling a whole lot like Woolf's fictional character — especially as she tries to comfort Richard (Ed Harris), a former lover who is dying of AIDS-related complications.

The stories have been nicely assembled by director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare (who adapted Michael Cunningham's best-seller). However, they do fail to resolve at least one of the three stories satisfactorily.

Kidman's prosthetic proboscis doesn't detract from her subtle, nuanced work here. While she's getting most or all of the Oscar talk, Streep and Moore are also superb in similarly subdued performances.

The same goes for the supporting players, especially Harris, Claire Danes and the always-solid Allison Janney, who co-stars as Clarissa's current "life partner."

"The Hours" is rated PG-13 for scattered use of profanity (including one usage of the so-called "R-rated" curse word), brief drug content (prescription drug use and abuse) and some glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 115 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com