Wednesday, January 5, 2011

REVIEW: 127 Hours (2010)

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade.
No pun intended.

Note the hourglass imagery as
it relates to the tagline.

If you've ever been naive enough to think, “That’ll never happen to me,” it would be worth your while to set aside 94-minutes and watch 127 Hours. Director and co-writer, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), continues to define his unique cinematic style with his first venture into non-fiction. Based on the book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” by Aron Ralston, 127 Hours explores a true account and stands as a testament to the human spirit. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado on September 4, 2010 and has since been circling the globe in assorted festivals and limited city releases since November, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

James Franco (Freaks and Geeks, Spider-Man I-II-III) stars as Aron Ralston, a hiker who in April of 2003 got his right hand pinned under a boulder in Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah. He spent the next five days trying to free himself, reflecting on his life, and coming to terms with the inevitable. Having run out of food, fresh water, and resorting to drinking his own urine to stay alive, Ralston acknowledges the fact that his hand has been without circulation that entire time. He also realizes that since he didn’t tell anyone where he was going, by the time someone does come looking for him, he will surely be dead. The only logical move is to free himself, by any means necessary, which in his case was a dull multi-tool knife that he got for free with a flashlight.

The most powerful aspect of this film is not only that the events really happened, but that the filmmakers portrayed them accurately. The real Aron Ralston kept a video diary everyday that he was trapped in the canyon and allowed both Danny Boyle and James Franco to view the tapes of his experience. This insight to the events lent itself to a remarkable performance by Franco, and provided Boyle with deeper meaning to explore in his entertainment challenged movie. Sixteen minutes into the film Ralston is trapped, and ten minutes before the end he is out. That’s over an hour of isolation to deal with on screen. Boyle breaks it up by showing flashbacks that Ralston had while he was trapped, indulging in hallucinations he experienced, and focusing on the challenges he had to endure, on top of being trapped. One such scene shows Ralston wrapping his exposed limbs in climbing rope as the temperature drops to 44°F at night. 

In addition to portraying the physical and psychological affects Ralston was experiencing during that time, the film also shows some deep revelations that he would have otherwise never had. During his daily video diaries Ralston expresses regret multiple times for not always being there for his family. Ralston also interviews himself, during a revealing comedic monologue, where he confesses that being, “a big fucking hard hero,” that can do everything on his own, prevented him from telling anyone where he was going, resulting in his extended predicament. There are a couple of comedic moments that Franco delivers throughout the film. They serve to lighten the mood of the incredibly wretched situation and ease the audience into the gruesome climax of the film.

It is during the climax that Boyle shows the most tact as a director, keeping it as tasteful as reality would allow. There is mild gore and anguish during the amputation scene, but not nearly as much as there could have been given the wrong sensibilities. The tension during that scene is almost unbearable, as you watch Ralston sever the nerves in his arm. All of that subsides the moment he steps back from the boulder. The sequence illustrates the point and is quickly concealed as Ralston continues his journey to salvation. The character arc that Franco portrayed as Ralston is something that everyone can relate to or at least identify with, if only by association. In the beginning of the film he is clearly cocky and over confident in himself and his abilities. Throughout the course of the film he experiences humility and becomes humbled. The realization that his arrogant demeanor and life path led him directly to being trapped under that boulder is the final push to do what he needs to survive.

Technically the film is pretty solid and fits within Boyle’s visual narrative style that he has been crafting since Shallow Grave (1994). It is bookended by shots of people living their day-to-day lives, mixed with Aron pre and post ordeal. The intention is to remind us that while we’re busy doing our daily routines there are people who may be alone, or in need, and not as far away as you may think. The editing by Jon Harris (Snatch., The Descent) is sharp and fast-paced, which keeps the stationary story moving. Of course if there is anything that ties the film together it is Boyle’s signature use of music in the film. Once again he collaborated with A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) to compose the score, which is brilliantly mixed with rock n’ roll and emotion.

If there are any faults in the film, which is always subject to opinion, they are overshadowed by the subject matter and gravity of the situation. People who remember the story from 2003, or only knew the basic facts, will be enlightened and possibly amazed by the details of the full story. It is truly an inspiring tale of human survival and the will to live. Anyone who goes into the film thinking that it is a fictional, cautionary tale will be at a loss, because the gut-wrenching turmoil of the film may come off as too strong. Going into it with the knowledge that it really happened will only strengthen ones reaction to the profound exploration of the human spirit.

********  8/10

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