127 Hours | Danny Boyle, 2010
There are many incredible true stories that are as great as they are; they are not fit for a cinematic medium. Take The Blind Side as an example. A story of an all-American white family adopting a 16 year old, 6-foot-tall African-American boy who pretty much lived in the street all his life, and putting him through school and one day he became one of the top players in football. Great story, but the movie was not, and I don’t think a more skilled director would have been able to do anything about it. One story that I was for sure not going to work as a movie, no matter how amazing, was the survival story of Aaron Ralston and the ordeal that he went through in 2003. However, thanks to an expertly crafter production, direction, and a great performance from the star, it became one of the best movies of the year.
127 Hours starts with Aaron Ralston (James Franco) getting ready to go out on a trip. He is a hiker and adventurer, and he heads to the canyons of Utah for his latest escapade. Along the way he meets a couple of young, female hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) shows them something that a guide would not have, and goes on his merry way. So, he goes on to do what he was there to do, which was hike down a canyon. But as he is doing so, he holds on to a rock that was not too safe, and he falls, and his arm ends up caught under it. At first he tries to chip away at the rock, but the more he does that, the more support it takes on his arm. And so, for five days he is trapped, alone with his thoughts and his memories, that make him realize that he was selfish, and had he not been so, someone would have noticed he was missing and he would have been rescued. On the fifth day, as we all know, he makes the decision of cutting of his arm with a dull knife, as it was the only thing he could do it with, and the rest is history.
Like I said, I didn’t think this was going to work as a movie. After all, what were they going to do with a movie about a guy with his arm stuck for five days? But boy, was I wrong. First off, you know you are going to get something different when Danny Boyle was announced as director. And he is one of the two main reasons why this movie works. From beginning to end it is filled with his signature energy and thirst and unique shots, from the beautiful one of Aaron and the female hikes jumping from a crevice into an underground lake that is seen in the trailers, to the one of the water coming up from the stray in his camel bag. When he is stuck in the cave, it is never boring because he keeps things moving by switing angles, showing him talking into his video camera and doing silly things with hit although he is barely alive, as well as flashbacks and visions that he had. The flashbacks and the visions were particularly interesting because they were so realistic. If you were trapped for five days with a little bit of water and food, what would you do? You would talk to your self, remember important and not so important moments of your life, you would see weir things, etc. Boyle handled these well enough that they walked the line between cheese and realism perfectly. And the ending is the second most moving ending of any movie this year, and the most inspirational since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and it features the best use of Sigur Ros in any movie.
The other reason why thing worked so well is James Franco’s performance. This is pretty much a one man show, and we see the character evolving from being an energetic young man with not a care in the world, to a man who regrets having been so disconnected with his family, and realizing that he had some of the greatest times of his life with them. Franco delivers all this. We don’t see an actor trying to get rid of his image as Harry Osbourne, but a man trying to survive, coming to terms with his death, and then be hopeful again and do whatever he must to survive. Thanks to this performance, I’m starting to think that Franco might be the best actor of his generation.
In terms of the technical, it is as great as we have come to expect from Danny Boyle. Anthony Dod Mantel and Enrique ___’s cinematography is sometimes vibrant and beautiful, and other times it makes you feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic. The editing makes the 90 minutes of the movie fly by and never be boring. The art directing recently got a nomination from the Art Director’s guild in their contemporary category, and it is well deserved (although The Ghost Writer should have really taken its spot). A.R. Rahman’s score, while it is not great, works great for the scenes it is used and helps increase the tension of the proceedings.
As for “the scene,” it wasn’t that bad. Yes there have been stories of people fainting and what not, but I don’t see why that would happen unless they were really sensitive. Sure, it is gross and off-putting, but the way it is shot, you rarely see anything, and it is not the main focus of it. I don’t see how people line up to see movies like Saw and Hostel, yet they are afraid of this scene. Shame.
127 Hours is a fantastic and, truth be told, inspirational movie. Thanks to Danny Boyle and his production team, as well as James Franco’s performance, we have an entertaining (yes, entertaining) but smart movie that came from the most unlikely place.