Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara.
Danny Boyle’s first film since the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire marks something of a change of direction for the dynamic British director who first burst onto the scene in 1994 with Shallow Grave.
127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston, the maverick weekend adventurer who, in 2003, found himself trapped in a canyon by a boulder and was forced to amputate his own arm with a rusty knife in order to free himself. Ralston set off to explore Utah’s remote Bluejohn Canyon, neglecting to inform anyone of his destination. The opening scenes in which Ralston cycles across a desert landscape are full of energy, as cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle employ lots of split screen effects. Jon Harris’ fluid editing brings a kinetic energy to these scenes, and the action is accompanied by A R Rahman’s pulsating Bollywood-inspired score.
Early in the film Ralston has a brief encounter with two female hitchhikers (cameos from Amber Tamblin and Kate Mara), and spends a couple of hours flirting with them and exploring the canyons. These scenes give us insight into his daredevil personality when he shows them a “shortcut” through a steep cliff face into an underground pool. Then he’s off again, preferring isolation and solitude. “I don’t think we figured in his day at all,” one of the girls muses as Ralston heads off into the canyons.
It’s not long after that that Ralston is trapped when a boulder falls and crushes his arm. Ralston is unable to dislodge the huge rock and becomes trapped. Here the momentum slows slightly, although Boyle manages to bring some incredible tension to these scenes. During the five days he was trapped, Ralston examined his own life and reassessed his values.
Boyle and regular co-writer Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire, etc) have drawn extensively on Ralston’s own 2004 book Between A Rock And A Hard Place for the sparse screenplay. And Boyle is well served here by his charismatic star James Franco (Milk, Pineapple Express, etc), who is on screen virtually the whole time and delivers the performance of his career.
Like Tom Hanks’ largely solo performance in Cast Away, Franco’s performance holds our attention for the duration. He suffuses the character with a twitchy energy, but also effectively conveys his internal torment. Franco is also able to convey a gamut of emotions, ranging from optimism through to despair, fear, fatigue, and determination when he finally realises that his only hope to escape his predicament is to cut off his own arm.
Even though the story is well known through the extensive media coverage, the climactic 20-minute sequence is tough going and unflinchingly realistic, and will be hard for many to sit through without wincing. Initial thoughts that 127 Hours may be another intensely claustrophobic experience like the recent Buried (which was basically 90 minutes of Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin awaiting help) are soon banished. Boyle manages to open the material up employing many visual flourishes.
Boyle directs the largely static film with virtuoso flair, almost as if he’s impatient with the static setting. He also uses plenty of flashbacks that show Ralston’s younger years with his family and friends. He also employs a host of multi-media forms to create a dazzling montage as Ralston films himself on his camcorder during his predicament. Apparently Ralston’s raw footage has been locked away in a bank vault. But Franco and Boyle have been granted access to help shape this dramatic recreation.
During the end credits we get to meet the real Ralston, who, despite his ordeal, shows no sign of having lost his thirst for adventure and extreme activities.
A surprisingly emotionally involving tale, 127 Hours succeeds as both a gripping drama and a compelling story of courage and survival.