Principal Cast : James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Poesy, treat Williams, Lizzy Caplan, Kate Burton.
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.
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 favour.
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 flavour 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.