Monday, November 22, 2010

127 Hours

Film: 127 Hours (2010)
Dir: Danny Boyle
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Based on the true survival story of Aron Ralston, 127 Hours is a riveting, emotional film, just as we have come to expect from Danny Boyle. Based on Ralston’s aptly-named book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", the film tells the story not just of a near-death experience, but of a life-altering experience to which any regular person can relate.

The film opens with Ralston, portrayed by James Franco, heading into the Utah desert alone for a hike. He neglects to tell anyone where he is going, confident in his abilities as a lone canyoneer. He meets two female hikers (Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn) but ultimately parts ways with them so he can continue his treacherous hike alone. While crossing a deep crevice in the terrain, Aron falls and his wrist is pinned to the wall by a boulder. Trapped miles from where anyone can help him, he spends the next 127 hours (roughly five days) trying to free himself before his food and water supply runs out. He battles hypothermia, dehydration, and a bit of madness along the way.

In real life, the story of Ralston’s grueling ordeal became a national sensation. There was no doubt that it would be turned into a movie eventually – though not necessarily a good one. Fortunately, Danny Boyle took an interest in making the film adaptation. Boyle and co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy make the film more than just a heartwarming survival tale. This is the story of a man – faced with a certain death - reflecting on his life, his mistakes, and the loved ones he has neglected. The theme resembles Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire in that both suggest that fate has a plan for us all and that sometimes horrible things happen for good reasons.

Boyle also provides a unique, fast-paced look for Ralston’s story. The hyperactive pacing reflects Ralston’s ever-moving lifestyle as a modern-day adventurer. It is especially poignant when put in juxtaposition with footage from the world outside of Aron’s – businessmen flocking to the subways; sports fans celebrating a game; families enjoying the beach; etc. Then there is Aron – this seemingly invincible super-man, all alone, seeking the next big thrill. A.R. Rahman provides an energetic soundtrack, and cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle combine their talents into creating a gritty, claustrophobic (but never dull) atmosphere. They are not limited by the small confines of the crevice in which Aron is trapped. We see his predicament from every conceivable angle – even the view from his water bottle.

The person who really makes 127 Hours what it is, however, is James Franco. Turning in what is easily the best performance of his career thus far, Franco brings a perfect combination of intensity, charm, and a surprising yet comforting sense of humor to his portrayal of Ralston. He is not just some climber stuck under a rock – he is a complex young man with regrets and unfulfilled aspirations. He is a very intelligent engineer who utilizes everything he has learned in multiple attempts to escape the boulder. Franco does the real Ralston much justice. From the moment Aron becomes trapped, the camera does not stray, giving the audience a window into his every emotion – pain, desperation, helplessness, loneliness, remorse, hysteria, and even joy. Franco is completely convincing at all of them. An Oscar nomination is sure to be in his future.

The only downside of the movie is that, thematically and stylistically, it is a bit too much like Boyle’s last feature film, Slumdog Millionaire. Obviously it lacks the central love story and Bollywood musical numbers, but the messages are very similar. Still, Hours is a solid film, and it certainly lives up to the true story upon which it is based. Real survival stories are so easy to exploit and they can make a bad movie seem better than it actually is. That is not the case here, as Boyle and company have created a powerful film about a man, not just an incident. To know the details of Ralston’s survival story, you could simply read what happened in the newspaper; but 127 Hours allows you to take a glimpse inside the mind of man driven by a need for redemption and the sheer will to live.


Sean D. said...

Awesome review! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the movie too. This will definitely make my top ten, but I'm not sure exactly where it will rank yet. Franco really does deserve an Academy Award nomination for this. He really nailed the part. I'm guessing he picked up some acting techniques from John Paxton. :P Seriously though, nice review. This movie is a great survival story, and a study of Aron Ralston as a person. I had to look up and watch some interviews he did after seeing the film. Couldn't help it.

Hitmandj said...

Great review, I was one of the few people who probably didn't know or hear of the story before hand, (other than when the movie was coming out, but not when the actual events occurred). I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen, but there were little things here and there that I didn't know for a fact or doubted while watching. It was a good movie, and Franco's performance was very good. I'm always impressed when one person can hold your attention for a long amount of time all by them self. Which of course a testament to both the actor and the directing. (which is me just explaining more as to "I agree with you").

Sean Grey Hanson said...

None of those moments are as thrilling as his steely-eyed determination underneath that rock. This is the kind of movie you absolutely must see once and then.