February 25th, 2022
MOVIE: THE DESPERATE HOUR
STARRING: NAOMI WATTS, COLTON GOBBO
DIRECTED BY: PHILLIP NOYCE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
The recent trend in the pandemic world has been movies in singular locations, focusing on characters kept in a box, working a job or in a mode of transportation, with all the drama focused on them. It began with Tom Hardy driving in a car for the runtime in Locke and recently we saw Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 operator dealing with a woman in peril in The Guilty, and what both those movies prove is that these types of narratives can work. The Desperate Hour is directed by Phillip Noyce and stars Naomi Watts. She plays Amy Carr, an insurance salesperson and mother, where she decides to go for a run in the morning, and while getting her workout in, she receives an alert on her phone that the local high school has been put on lockdown due to an active shooter. The extra terrifying part is that her son Noah (Colton Gobbo) is a student at that school, placing Amy in a situation where she’s run miles away from being able to protect her son, forcing her to do all she can to get back to her child. The final result is a valiant effort, highlighted by an authentic performance by Watts, but succumbing to the unrealistic lengths her character must go to stop the attack. The Desperate Hour is fascinating in theory but runs out of steam.
The day for Amy begins as a normal one, she’s made coffee, has some breakfast ready, and drives younger daughter Emily (Sierra Maltby) to elementary school. Noah is in a more angsty teenager state, and rightfully so after his father recently passed away. Everyone is struggling, but Noah has taken it a lot harder, and getting out of bed is not as simple. Amy tells him to get himself ready and to school. She’s going for a run and she will see him at the end of the day. That’s what she hopes but in the world today, everything is unpredictable, and unfortunately we live in a world where sending our kids to school could be a costly decision.
The Desperate Hour is a better movie from a technical aspect than a narrative aspect. The direction from Noyce is interesting, working off a screenplay by Chris Sparling, and taking on the challenge of making a thriller entirely based on what we see or hear on the phone. It’s that combination in the narrative structure which makes it both fascinating and frustrating. The focus goes back and forth between Watts’ performance, her body rattling on the terrain, jumping over rocks, following the trail, and then turning her focus back to the phone. The visuals split between things that pop up on the screen, local news reports, text messages, and the preposterous investigating that Amy begins to do on her own. It’s when The Desperate Hour begins to expand outside the plausible where the focus is lost. The voices on the other line, friends with other students, a local police officer on the case, and an auto mechanic that goes above and beyond his duty as a car repair employee. The more the investigation succeeds at the diligent work of Amy the more preposterous all of the narrative becomes.
What can’t be discounted is the performance by Watts, someone that is no stranger to playing a character in peril, stressing to rescue her loved ones. We saw similar work in The Impossible, but only this time Watts is truly carrying the physical side, doing all the running alongside cinematographer John Brawley, and never skipping a beat at how stressful her character needs to be portrayed. Without Watts The Desperate Hour wouldn’t work at all. If Noyce would have pulled the details back, stuck to the barebones of just a woman running, paralyzed in her reality, there would be a bigger hit on hand.
Alas, the failures fall on the writing of The Desperate Hour. Had Noyce and his team stayed away from turning Watts’ character into a super woman, able to google on the run, track down car vin numbers, and even find a way to get a phone call with the shooter. My interest was peaked for all of The Desperate Hour which is another reminder that Watts is great in just about everything. However, this was “desperately” in need of a re-write, a bit more reservation in a human’s ability on a run, and the sense of mind to have respect for the true trauma that arrives in subject matter such as this. The Desperate Hour sadly fails to come across the finish line.
THE DESPERATE HOUR IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FEBRUARY 25TH, 2022
Written by: Leo Brady