Director: Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), an adventurer who makes the mistake of embarking on a canyoneering trip without letting anyone know where he’s going. A freak accident finds Aron trapped in a crevasse, a boulder crushing his right arm and pinning him down. He tries everything to try to free himself, but with only a small number of tools – including a blunt utility knife – Aron realizes that he may very well die in the crevasse if he doesn’t take drastic action.
With 127 Hours, Danny Boyle has managed to film what seemed like an unfilmable account – how do you make the ordeal of a lone adventurer being trapped in a canyon for five days an interesting commercial film? It’s impressive what Boyle had achieved with what is essentially a static movie, and is very reminiscent of how Buried played out almost entirely in a wooden coffin. This isn’t exactly an action film nor is it a thriller, but 127 Hours is very captivating, thanks to an excellent performance by James Franco and the masterful direction of Danny Boyle. However, the more squeamish should be warned that there is an extremely graphic and realistic sequence later in the movie which may make for extremely disconcerting viewing.
Apart from the first fifteen minutes of the film (which features some fantastic landscape shots of the canyon), and a brief interlude which introduces Aron Ralston and his encounter with two lost female hikers, 127 Hours basically sticks with the protagonist throughout his five day ordeal. This means that James Franco is basically in every scene, every step of the way, and much like Natalie Portman in Black Swan he gives the performance of a lifetime. It’s intense and yet totally believable, and the audience is led to feel what he feels every step of the way. Although there are fleeting flashback and fantasy sequences, the focus never moves away from Franco for long. Like Ryan Reynolds in Buried, this is the role that breaks Franco away from the classification of “featherweight thespian”.
(Some viewers may be familiar with the story of Aron Ralston, but those who are not may do well to skip over this portion of the review if they wish to avoid spoilers.) Danny Boyle follows through Aron’s entire ordeal, including his decision to finally self-amputate his trapped limb to save himself. This now-infamous scene is filmed “as is”, the camera not shying away from the complete process, documenting in excruciating detail how Aron fractured his arm then slowly hacked away at his own soft tissue with a blunt utility knife. Although there are far gorier scenes in slasher or horror films, this particular sequence is much more believable and as such is far more difficult to sit through.
Although 127 Hours may tend towards being a little too showy at times (in particular the fantasy sequences), it cannot be denied that Danny Boyle has managed to create a very resonant film that will stick in the minds of many viewers for a long time. He takes more artistic license than most of the documentarians that have featured the same story, but this is an uplifting (at least at the end), inspiring tale about the strength of the human spirit that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
* * * (out of four stars)