Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy (Book: Aron Ralston)
James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Sean A. Bott, Koleman Stinger, Parker Hadley, Bailee Michelle Johnson, Clémence Poésy, John Lawrence, Treat Williams, Lizzy Caplan, Fenton G. Quinn, P.J. Hull, Pieter Jan Brugge, Rebecca C. Olson, Jeffrey Wood, Norman Lehnert, Darin Southam
R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images
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It’s not easy to describe a film directed by Danny Boyle. Apart from his mainstream paean to Bollywood, Boyle has crafted an eclectic bunch of films from his celebrated 1996 breakthrough Trainspotting to his groundbreaking zombie survival thriller 28 Days Later… to his sci-fi sleeper Sunshine. When Boyle is breaking the rules of cinematic storytelling, he’s at his best. When it feels like he’s pandering I lose interest. 127 Hours had the potential of doing the latter, but I’m satisfied to say that it amounts more to the former.
Anchored by a fantastic lead performance by James Franco, the film follows the real life story of Aron Ralston, a cocky climber and canyoneer who is more at home in the canyons of Moab, Utah than anywhere else. After showing a couple of hikers a fantastic thrill ride into an underground lake, Ralston tumbles into a crevasse where a large, dislodged boulder has trapped his arm and left him stranded in a remote region where the likelihood of discovery is minimal. When I originally read about this film and it was said to include flashbacks and memories of his life before, I had expected a bit more formulaic and traditional presentation, but his hazy recollections, pain-induced memories and obscure prophetic visions lead the film down a less conventional and more engaging path.
Heavy use of three-way split screen techniques lend an otherworldly quality to the film, taking us at once into Ralston’s life and out of the real world. Yet, every time we’re pushed into fantasy, Boyle drags us back to reality where we are viscerally forced to share Ralston’s fate. If you know what happens, it will help prepare you for the inevitable, but if you go in not knowing, your emotions will threaten to get the better of you as you become certain of the outcome.
Franco’s career-defining performance is essential. You cannot tell a story like this without a charismatic, honest, lifelike performance and Franco, who long ago proved he has the skill, was the perfect choice for the role. The audience shares Franco’s pain, frustration, hope and disgust. They react viscerally to the varied disturbing situations and images presented in the film. That Boyle can make you feel this uncomfortable without diverting you from the story is a credit to his ability.
You have to prepare yourself for a film like this. Go in expecting to face emotionally and physically demanding scenes. It’s graphic when necessary, yet meaningful and touching in equal measure. These types of techniques have been used in varied and interesting ways in the past, but Boyle manages to turn twist and mold those methods into a film that could have felt disjointed, impatient or unclear, but works so incredibly well. While I had almost written Boyle off after my disappointment with the frequently forced, erratically pretentious Slumdog Millionaire (and the subsequent undeserved praise), he managed to wrench me back into his corner with 127 Hours. If we could excise Slumdog from his filmography, I’d say he was batting 1.000 for me, but even my favorite directors have disappointments. I just hope he doesn’t backslide in the future.
November 29, 2010