Director Danny Boyle might strike lightning twice with his follow-up to the Best Picture Winning Slumdog Millionaire with the riveting 127 Hours. Detailing the harrowing five day ordeal of canyoneer Aron Ralston, the movie is roller-coaster that will instill every emotion in the viewer. With an award winning performance from star James Franco, this is a movie that won’t be for the faint of heart but not necessarily for the inevitable ending of Ralston’s journey.
Aron Ralston (Franco) is a thrill-seeker who constantly spends time in the sprawling canyons of Utah. With such a love of life Aron seems to push away his family in a constant search for the ultimate high. While trekking through the Blue John canyon he unsettles a rock that pins him and his hand into a crevasse. With no one knowing where he is and limited food and water it will take everything Aron has to confront his fears and make most difficult choice in his life in order to survive.
127 Hours is the most emotionally unsettling and inspiring movie you’ll see all year. It’s hard to imagine a movie with only one actor as the focus for the majority of the film that you’ll feel so riveted but that’s the beauty of the movie. You’re introduced to Aron as a thrill-seeking man who finds nature more fascinating than his family. It’s similar territory that was explored in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild but here you find it easier to connect with Aron who’s a laid-back and charming man who doesn’t realize how selfish he’s been until the end of the film. Once he’s pinned in the crevasse the remaining half of the movie follows him attempting to chip away at the rock, recording his thoughts on video, and hallucinating about people that aren’t there. Throughout you feel just as helpless as Aron and despite his attempts to remain humorous he is well aware that he’ll probably die down there. For the most part everyone knows what ultimately happened to Ralston (he did write a book for starters) and since the movie is being depicted as “that movie where the guy cuts his arm off” it’s also wonderful how you never feel like you know everything going in. Yes, Aron ultimately cuts his arm off and you are anticipating that for the majority of the film but, much like his life, it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile. The actual amputation scene is the most brutal few minutes of film and not because of the gore, but the sheer fear and determination exhibited by actor James Franco. The movie portrays the amputation tastefully, cutting rapidly between the arm and his face, but throughout those few minutes you experience the fear, horror, determination and endurance of the character. Director Danny Boyle effortlessly makes the audience feel one with his character and it elevates the movie to a plain not normally seen in film, one where you don’t ever pity him but applaud him for his endurance.
If James Franco doesn’t get nominated, or win, the Best Actor award this year it’ll be a shame because the guy goes through hell. Franco has proven before he can play charming and his scenes in the beginning with actresses Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn are proof of that, but he has to go through so many emotions its exhausting. Franco keeps the mood light for as long as he can and even when the hallucinations become too much, like his recording a talk show he makes up, there’s still a light behind his eyes that makes it seem everything will be okay. Aside from him there are only a few characters, less that even have dialogue. Tamblyn and Mara are sweet as two hikers Aron meets before the incident and Clemence Posey is gorgeous as the tortured girlfriend of Aron’s that he pushed away.
If there’s any flaw with this movie it’s that there doesn’t seem to be enough time devoted to the girlfriend, whose name is apparently Rana according to IMDB. She seems like such an important part of Aron’s life before this and yet we never learn anything about her compared to his family. It’s a nitpick yes but its character development that would have fleshed things out a bit more. Also, if you’re squeamish then best wait for DVD because the amputation scene is intense and does involve blood and snapping bones.
Overall, 127 Hours is shocking, beautiful, heart wrenching and inspirational. Danny Boyle and James Franco come together to show the hell Aron Ralston went through and the beauty of the canyons that compelled him there time and again. The amputation is intense but necessary and after it’s over you come out the other side, same as Ralston, enlightened and inspired.