On first viewing, it's the women of The Hours who amaze. Nicole Kidman, who earned an Oscar for her fierce portrayal of Virginia Woolf, pulls a vanishing act, so completely does she plunge herself into the part. Julianne Moore's performance as a claustrophobic '50s housewife whose only lifeline is literature is equally powerful. And Meryl Streep, who plays a modern-day Mrs. Dalloway, intent on throwing her dying friend a party, is reliably luminous. They're extraordinary, these three, magnets all of them. (Alas, they sound weary on the DVD's commentary track, as if they've been corralled into one last press junket.)
On second viewing, though, one can appreciate the men in this joyful collaboration. David Hare, who adapted Michael Cunningham's seemingly unadaptable Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, infuses what is really a profound meditation on suicide with surprising light and vigor. (Cunningham joins director Stephen Daldry on a separate, more spirited commentary and pronounces himself the only novelist happy with his book's treatment by Hollywood.) And John C. Reilly and the marvelous Stephen Dillane bring great decency to their supporting roles of desperately devoted husbands. So don't trust anyone who tells you this is merely a movie about women for women -- the men here matter too.