Saturday, November 27, 2010


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by Danny Boyle

Starring James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara

The way 127 Hours portrays him, Aaron Ralston (based on the real-life mountain climber/biker/adventurer extraordinaire of the same name) is more in touch with the human condition the further he is from humanity. Rejecting a last minute cell-phone call from his mother, brushing off a coworker, and losing interest in his girlfriend (Clemence Poesy), Ralston (James Franco) heads out to the canyons of Utah for a day of traversing rocky terrain, spelunking shallow caverns, and steering as far away from his fellow man as possibly.

That plan has a wrench thrown into it when Aaron stumbles upon Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), two friends stranded in the middle of nowhere after getting lost hiking. After leading the ladies to their destination, Ralston shows them an underground pond, where the three of them frolic for a short while before Aaron decides he's had enough human contact for the day and quickly sets off down his own path. "I don't think we figured into his day at all," says Kristi, almost offended. Don't feel bad, Kristi. No one figured into Aaron Ralston's day. Which is unfortunate for our hero, because his day is about to get a whole heck of a lot worse than going (near) skinny-dipping with two attractive females. 

Soon (but not soon enough) after departing his new friends, Aaron becomes involved in what is surely every outdoorsman's worst nightmare: he falls into a cavern and becomes trapped by a boulder. A boulder heavy enough to withstand the strength of one man trying to lift it. Through a stroke of blind luck, the rock has only pinned his right arm, leaving his 3 other limbs free (hey, when you're out on your own and practically crushed by a thousand year old gigantic stone, there is such a thing as blind luck). Through a stroke of bad luck, Ralston doesn't have many supplies that would help him on his person. Nor does he have anyone close to him with the knowledge of his whereabouts.

127 Hours is directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting) and written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), and the two have created a jolting sugar-high of a film that is relentlessly fast paced and exciting, even though it never once strays from the protagonists predicament.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that 127 Hours doesn't play out like your usual search and rescue film. There's no cross-cutting to the victim's family, no scenes of frantic parents desperately contacting the authorities to conduct a hunt for their lost son. The film focuses exclusively on the man under the boulder, and we only see what he sees and experience what he experiences.

At first, the situation doesn't seem so severe. Ralston curiously observes his arm under the rock, and we see in his eyes he feels he can either slip his arm right out or push the heavy object off of it. Of course, the action is easier thought-of than done, and he spends the next five days fighting fatigue, dehydration, and audio/visual hallucinations, which Boyle weaves seamlessly into the film. Like our lead character, we're never really sure what we're seeing is real, but we're always aware of who the people are we're seeing, how they fit into Ralston's life and with what purpose. He fantasizes about his first memories with his family - his father taking him to see a mountain sunrise, his sister playing the piano. The more time that passes and the more weathered his body and mind become, the more heavily the hallucinations/memories figure into the film and Ralston's drive to escape the cavern and reconnect (or perhaps connect for the first time?) with his family.  Boyle has experimented with weaving his characters hallucinations into his films before (28 Days Later, Trainspotting), but never have they become such a driving force in the narrative as in 127 Hours.

James Franco, an actor about due for the highest award Hollywood can give him, conveys his character's quick descent from confident to terrified to defeated and back again with talent that eludes a lot of young actors today. 127 Hours is, mostly, a one man show and, like Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, Franco plays Ralston as a charming but slightly naive free spirit. Ralston, of course, isn't as extreme in his rejection of society's rigid structure as Hirsch's Christopher McCandless was, but Boyle is sure to remind us, with a credits sequence that juxtaposes shots of crowds and the chaos of urban life, that Aaron preferred the beautiful solitude of uninhabited nature. Using a video camera (one of the few things he did bring along with him) as a confessional, Ralston is able to explore emotions and feelings he probably hasn't felt in a long time, and Franco delivers a complete and amazing performance.

Much has been made of the film's "escape" sequence, where Ralston cuts off his right arm in order to free himself from confinement. (That's not a spoiler, by the way. The true story of the real Aaron Ralston has been floating around for years). There were tales of viewers passing out at early screenings which appear to have been confirmed. The scene, while graphic and somewhat stomach-churning, begins and ends fairly quickly. It's surely an intense few minutes of screentime, but a quick glance away from the movie should quell any feelings of nausea one may experience.

For a film about a man trapped in one place unable to move that never once, after the first ten minutes, leaves that man's side, 127 Hours is one of the most exciting and inspiring films of the year. Danny Boyle has crafted a film that is a surprising rush of adrenaline, for having one fixed location. It's an edgy film, and one that flips the bird to traditional screenplay form and structure. It's not an easy movie to watch, and since there are no other characters to connect with if you don't like Aaron Ralston you'll most likely feel the same way about the film. Those looking for a unique experience, though, (much like he was) will find much to enjoy here.

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