Movie Review – 127 Hours
– Summary –
Director : Danny Boyle
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Poesy, treat Williams, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Burton.
Approx Running Time : 93 Minutes
Synopsis: Canyoneer Aron Ralston becomes wedged deep inside a canyon whilst hiking alone through the Colorado wilderness. Using his skills for survival, his video camera to document his ordeal, and the memory of his family for inspiration, Ralston must fight to stay alive and make it back to civilization.
What we think : A teeth-clenching final reel caps off a terrific burst of intense, adrenaline-soaked man-vs-nature storytelling, with James Franco delivering a performance far beyond anything I figured he was capable of, and Danny Boyle once more providing vivid, attention-grabbing direction. 127 Hours is all the more astonishing not because of the quality of the production, but for the fact that it portrays events that actually happened. This is indeed an amazing film, one that’ll have you on the edge of your seat a number of times.
127 Hours is kinda like a mix between The Descent, Buried, and Phone Booth. It’s a “man in a box” film, whereby a single character must perform in an enclosed, rigidly simple space, carrying the film with sheer grit and hutzpah. Much like Ryan Reynolds did in Buried, Franco gives the performance of his career in this, playing real life adventurer Aron Ralston in this story of courage and survival. Okay, so Reynolds wasn’t playing a real person in Buried, but both he and Franco had to perform against themselves in each film, and whereas Reynolds was constricted by space, Franco is constricted by his own body – his right arm is pinned beneath an enormous rock, preventing his escape from almost certain death of starvation and/or dehydration. 127 Hours is a riveting story in and of itself, and I’m not surprised cinematic schizophrenic Danny Boyle, who gave us Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later and Sunshine, decided to take on the task of delivering this to the big screen. Boyle’s insatiable appetite for unique, vastly different styles of film is on show here again, as he fires a mortar round into your cerebellum with each edit in this punchy, effortlessly enjoyable – if entirely graphic – film about one man in incredible peril.
Adventurer and canyoneer Aron Rolston (James Franco) leaves his house to go exploring the Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA, and in doing so fails to inform anyone of his intentions and destination. While hiking towards the canyons he seeks, he runs into two lost female explorers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), and points them in the right direction as well as spending the afternoon with them in an underground pool. After separating from them, Aaron continues to explore, before he falls into a canyon after slipping, bringing down a giant boulder which pins his right arm to the canyon wall. Trapped, with no phone or form of communication, and limited rations of food and water, Aaron initially tries to escape his predicament via pounding the rock, trying to leverage it, and even chipping away at it with a small utility tool. Only after several days with diminished water, no food and severe hallucinations, does Aron consider the unthinkable if he’s to survive this potentially deadly ordeal.
You know what makes a really great film? If you answered “a simple concept”, you’re spot on. 127 Hours features a very simple story – a man trapped alone with no chance of outside help – and ramps up the emotion thanks to some bravura direction and a terrific leading performance; not only does 127 Hours do for canyoning what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean, but it cast a shadow over everything else James Franco’s ever done on screen…. in this film, he’s brilliant, and you have to ask “where has he been all this time” doing shitty comedies and never getting stuck into a meaty role like this. Playing Aron Ralston was a stroke of genius for Franco, who exudes both arrogance and egotism, even in the face of certain death, and delivers perhaps his defining performance in this simply told, well made movie. Shot on location in Utah as well as in a remarkably realistic sound-stage set, (I dare you to pick between the two), Boyle confines both his actor and his camera into the cramped, dusty, horrid conditions Ralston himself had to endure during his entrapment: as a technique for getting a great performance, there’s definitely an argument to be made in its favor.
I’m no expert on Ralston’s story aside from what I managed to Google before writing this review, but I have a profound respect for a man able to do what he did in this film. I doubt many of us could endure 5 days of confinement within a phone-booth sized hole in the ground, with limited food and only your urine to drink, without going completely tooti-frooti. As a character, Boyle and Co seem to have skimmed the best parts from Ralston’s book, entitled Between A Rock And A Hard Place, to bring a rather large amount of depth to him on screen. Ralston’s portrayed in this film as a somewhat selfish person, at least to those close to him – his girlfriend, played by Harry Potter actress Clemence Poesy, endures a rather icy relationship thanks to his inward focus, and even the two girls he meets while out hiking that fateful day seem to be kept at a distance. He’s aloof, never wanting to be tied down, and apparently takes his family for granted. The script, which is mainly Franco delivering lines to his digital camera as a pseudo documentary of his ordeal, allows the actor to really shine with a multi-faceted performance skipping from anger to sorrow to contrite resolution, a remarkable essaying of the role by Franco it must be said.
Director Danny Boyle has managed to keep this film from becoming an inert character monologue thanks to a camera that never stops moving and a pulsating, evocative soundtrack. Boyle’s Slumdog composer, AR Rahman, delivers an apropos musical score interspersed with pop-melodies that give the film a frenetic pacing, even moreso than the rapid-clip editing by Jon Harris. It’s a film short on exposition, and short on wasting time. The film moves at a brisk pace, which is slightly ironic considering how long Ralston spent trapped by that rock. Boyle’s camera moves all around Franco, confined by the canyon and yet free to zip into the bottom of his drink bottle, the interior workings of his video camera, and up close to the bloodthirsty final act for the gore and horror of what Ralston does in the end. There’s a hallucinatory flavor to the film as well, as Franco’s Ralston imagines conversations with members of his family, past and future, as he sinks in and out of consciousness; and there’s no better director at delivering a hallucination than Danny Boyle. The guy practically invented the cinematic hallucination in Trainspotting. Boyle isn’t afraid to stick his camera damn well up Franco’s nostril if it’ll elicit the proper emotion from the audience, and it’s this dizzying verité style we’ve come to love from Boyle in recent films that is one display in full force here.
The cast, aside from Franco, have very little to do. Hell, even the wonderful Lizzy Caplan appears for about three seconds as Ralston’s adult sister, while B-movie star Treat Williams has a blink-and-miss-it cameo as Ralston’s father. It’s obvious that Franco is the star here, and while I might have mentioned this earlier, it bears repeating: he outdoes himself as Ralston. It’s a depth of performance and nuanced portrayal of a complex man in such a small window of time that makes this even a more stark and staggering leading role from Franco. After his Oscar hosting debacle and the tepid response to his recent Planet of The Apes remake, as well as shite like Your Highness, I held little hope that Franco had a decent performance in him. I absolutely, categorically, state that I was wrong. 127 Hours will be the clip in his Obituary during the Oscar ceremony when he dies. It’s that good.
There’s not really much more I can say about 127 Hours than I haven’t already: by now, if I’ve not convinced you to go and watch it, then there’s no hope for you. Or my writing is so rubbish I’m unable to convince anybody of anything. 127 Hours is a great film, with a great leading performance and a dynamic, dazzling director at the helm. Sunshine aside, Boyle’s yet to really go off the rails as a filmmaker, and as long as he’s making them, I’m gonna keep watching the. Don’t watch this film after a meal, nor should you watch it if you’re claustrophobic – but even then, you really should put your life into perspective and give this terrific film a look.
What others are saying about 127 Hours:
Dan The Man loved it: “The main element of this film is that it literally is about this guy who was stuck in a cave for 5 days, and the film itself is about 94 minutes. Do I hear sleepy time? No, I do not, because Danny Boyle saves this film.”
Aiden at Cut The Crap wanted to sleep with this film: “Walking out of the theater, I was having a lot of trouble figuring out the right words to describe this man. My gut was leaning towards “awesome” and “badass,” but then my good buddy Fred chimed in and asked me to explain my reasoning for why it was starting to sound like I wanted to marry the guy.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies applauded James Franco as well: “Who leads this triumph of a film? Mr. James Franco. He gives everything he has in order to personify such a sensational person, that we have in Aron.”
Alyson over at The Best Picture Project had an emotional viewing: “James Franco portrays Aron as an energetic and charismatic lone wolf. He packs for his weekend trip while listening to a voicemail his mom left, but never calls her back.”
Claire at Cinematic Delights found it wrenching: “James Franco’s portrayal of Aron is simultaneously likeable and unlikeable. His, at times, comical remarks about his situation do make you laugh although you can’t stop this niggling voice inside your head which says: “Aron, why didn’t you tell anyone where you are going? Why didn’t you stick to the path?””
Lauren over at The Movie Brothers thought it was great too: “The real-life hiker filmed himself during his 127 hours in the canyon, and Franco and director Danny Boyle are among the few people who have seen these tapes. I’m sure the video helped Franco to pull off the amazing performance he gave expressing the frustration, fear, anger, desperation, and sadness Aron felt.”
Stevee at Cinematic Paradox loved it: “The film never strays far away from its awful predicament. While being stuck in a small place couldn’t possibly be the most interesting idea for a movie, screenwriters Boyle and Simon Beaufoy give us plenty to chew on. They bring you right into the story, and with the aid of brilliant direction from Boyle and an ambient score from A. R. Rahman, you can feel every prick of pain and the urge to survive.”
The Focused Filmographer directs his positive comments at James Franco: “This survival story is about a man and his will to survive against insurmountable odds! 127 Hours features James Franco as Ralston, and he wows the audience in this drama-filled suspense.”
Tom Clift praises Danny Boyle’s direction: “Danny Boyle, whose previous films have include Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire proves once again that he cannot be bound by the limitation of genre or physical space, delivering a film in 127 Hours that, despite being contained largely to a single location, buzzes with the sharp sounds and vibrant colours of a thousand commercials, music videos and feature films.”
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