By the end of “127 Hours” when Aron Ralston (James Franco) gruesomely removes himself from the 800-pound boulder his arm is pinned to, we, the audience, are left in a euphoric state. It is a celebration of the great victory of a man overcoming death and finding the will to survive. This film is such an intense experience. Director Danny Boyle and James Franco take us on an exhilarating journey of the shock, acceptance, regret, anger, and hope that resulted in this reviewer squirting a few tears of joy. “127 Hours” is the story of a life inspired put onscreen and easily one of the better films of the year.
Based on best selling memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, Ralston recounts the events that took place in Utah’s Blue John Canyon in April of 2003. Boyle introduces us to the film and to Ralston with an energetic opening split screen of dutch shots (static shot from a slanted angle) of busy crowds alongside Ralston hurriedly grabbing his gear in his apartment for his weekend trip. Boyle doesn’t drop the hammer right away, instead showing the exuberance of Ralston playing in his nirvana. When Aron comes upon two pretty girls lost in Blue John he plays guide and shows the ladies the best way to reach the deep bright blue lake. Ralston parts with the girls, skipping off to his next destination.
Shortly thereafter, the solitary Ralston slips resulting in his arm being stuck. This is where the film would have been lost with a lesser actor. But Franco seizes every scene as he and Boyle begin to put us through the emotional ringer. Franco impressively relays those first few moments of paralyzed shock, to angrily realizing his will and determination alone aren’t enough to save him, to beginning to assess the situation and think his way out. The only things he has with him are his camcorder, watch, climbing gear, a cheap dull knife and most importantly, very little food and even less water. Ralston’s greatest asset is that, for the most part, he is not one who panics, which Franco maneuvers by using his goofy nature to keep his wits about him.
Since Ralston is the sole character onscreen for the majority of the movie, Danny Boyle uses music as another character. Opening with the kinetic “Never Hear Surf Music Again” from Free Blood, to pulling an exhausted Ralston and audience back up with Bill Withers “Lovely Day”, Boyle never lets the film get stagnant from the restraints of his location. This is due in great part of his successful decision to use two cinematographers in Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak. The two different visions play off each other as Aron Ralston struggles with the physical and psychological effects of being trapped. Extreme close-ups of Franco and nifty camera shots through the water bottle keep the viewer tightly encased with Aron.
What Boyle really gets right is putting us in Aron’s head. The longer Aron is forced to look death in the eye, the more his memories, nightmares, and delusions pop up. When Aron’s mind races all the way back to his vehicle for the Gatorade he left on the seat, as commercial visions of beverage refreshment take over, I’ve never been so thirsty. Regrets and an inner look at his life’s decisions become more agonizing than the physical aspect. Realizing his selfishness of not picking up his mother’s phone calls or letting the girl get away, torment Aron but it’s the vision of what life has in store for him that ultimately leads him out of peril. When the self-amputation scene arrives it may be too strong for some but it is necessary. The intensity it takes to do such a thing creates a powerful moment that won’t quickly leave your memory. Inspired is the best word for what remains because you’re left there finding what you want to live for and how you’d lose an arm to do it. When Ralston miraculously sees people, he screams, “I need help”, for the first time in his life allowing himself not to be a superhero.
“127 Hours” is definitely up there with “Trainspotting” as one of Danny Boyle’s best films and I don’t need to say it but I will anyway; it’s a foregone conclusion that James Franco will be nominated for Best Actor and at this point I’ve seen no other performance that would beat it.
Reviewed by Mitch Hansch