"Go", "Rules of Attraction", "LOTR: The Two Towers" - all three movies have shown that one can pull of a film effectively with three separate narratives interconnected in one way or another, usually by a specific time or place.
"The Hours" on the other hand forgoes the geographical/historical markers and instead delivers three separate and yet inexorably linked tales of three women in completely different locales and eras who each within the space of one day find their unsatisfying lives changing when they're faced with a difficult choice (each linked in some way or another with a suicide).
Director Stephen Daldry has done a masterful job of intermixing the time periods with a deft hand - towards the start especially, the shifting between periods is so fast that it takes a little while to get used to all the jumping around but thankfully it slows down to the point where we can follow where each shift happens, and yet the subject matter never gets tiresome. Those who've automatically written off seeing this film as they fear it will be too slow will be quite shocked to find its anything but for the most part.
All the narrative tricks in the world couldn't save it though if any of the stories or performances had problems and the good news is none of them do. Each one has their own distinctive problems and yet have the common theme of three women who hit a wall of unhappiness and desperately try to find a way around it - the answer is not an easy one for any of them.
Kidman comes out the best, pulling off a performance of intellect and power behind determined eyes and prosthetic nose. Moore also handles her 'dazed suburban housewife' routine with the right amount of both fear and confusion, despite the fact that of the three this is the weakest of the storylines.
Streep seems to get the most screen time outside of Kidman and whilst it's not up there with her "Adaptation" antics, its still a strong role as we see a woman dealing with age and a feeling of missing out in her life. Miranda Richardson, Ed Harris, Allison Janey, and Claire Danes all lend strong support whilst a one-scene cameo from Toni Collette proves one of the film's true highlights.
Philip Glass' score is easily amongst the best of the year with all sorts of intoxicating themes which both separate and bridge the different time periods - one of the strongest musical accompaniments I've heard in ages.
The production design, cinematography, etc. all work wonderfully to give us distinctive styles for each time period, and yet doing them all in a very realistic and believable way rather than relying on visual trickery (ala "Traffic") or stereotype images of an era (despite Moore being in both, the 50's of "The Hours" and that of "Far from Heaven" are radically different).
It's a film of both craft and relevance, one which anyone whose not entirely satisfied with their life will find qualities in each of these women that they can easily sympathise with. Excellent dramatic storytelling.