By Dirk Sonniksen | November 20, 2010
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer(s): Danny Boyle (screenplay), Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Aron Ralston (book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”)
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn
When my editor fingered me for the 127 Hours gig, I was a bit put off. Honestly, how interesting can a film be about a guy whose arm is trapped under a boulder? “My arm is trapped under a boulder, trapped under a boulder, trapped under a boulder…now it’s not.” But there have been more mundane ideas than this that actually turned into fairly appealing films, and as it turns out, 127 Hours is exactly that.
Aron Ralston (James Franco), an avid climber-outdoor-bike-riding kind of guy, decides to go for a hike, but fails to let anyone know where he’s gone (bad move). While performing some acrobatic moves scaling a somewhat treacherous wall, Ralston falls with a large boulder not far behind. Upon landing, he finds his right arm caught between the boulder and the wall, and after numerous failed attempts to free said arm, an extreme journey begins in which Ralston lives out a kind of 127 hour acid trip of sorts while waiting to die.
127 Hours is a rather commercial film; it is formulaic and has that Hollywood-esque vibe. What makes 127 Hours such a great film to watch, however, is that director Danny Boyle managed to dilute that commercial element with a little special something very few directors possess. Unlike some of my SLSS colleagues, I am not a Boyle follower and have actually seen few of his films, but I appreciate his approach to this one. Boyle manages to successfully blend a stark desert landscape with past images from Ralston’s life that are both poignant and a bit cryptic; these images take on a menacing quality that is a unique juxtaposition with aforementioned desert shots.
In the beginning, the film began to play out as a sort of homage to outdoor nuts. This was a problem, as I am not an outdoor nut, don’t eat Cliff bars, workout, or think Lance Armstrong is God. Fortunately this vibe gave way to what I was looking for. Once trapped, Ralston begins having visions of various aspects of his life, with these visions getting creepier as time goes on. (I get the feeling these visions were more Boyle’s than Ralston’s.) Suddenly, I thought to myself, “This is exactly the kind of thing I would see if I were about to die!” This pleased me. I am now connecting with a film I honestly thought would completely alienate me. Indeed, the visions are what help to break up the film, going from the desolate environs of the cruel desert to dark childhood memories that hit home.
As far as Boyle’s choice for Ralston, he hit a home run casting James Franco. It was a relief not to see one of the usual suspects as Ralston, and instead an actor, who while perfectly capable, isn’t all over the place. Franco had that subtle intensity to pull off what is, in my opinion, a somewhat strange roll. We see him as this rather eccentric outdoorsman, who slowly succumbs to the realization that he is likely to perish in the very place he loves so much. That said, it was almost as if he became more sane as the film progressed. We begin to see the real emotions of Ralston as his physical bravado gets stripped away.
Overall, Boyle did a phenomenal job directing 127 Hours. This seems an odd film for a guy like Boyle to take on, but I suppose everyone needs a challenge. It proves the he can certainly pull off just about anything, something that cannot be said for a lot of directors (M Night Shayamalan and The Last Airbender comes to mind). A film that at first seemed tedious and boring turned out to be a rather intense journey both physically and mentally (I squirmed a lot when he cut his arm off). I’m not sure Franco deserves an Oscar nod for 127 Hours, but he is definitely worthy of praise; Franco and Boyle turned out to be the perfect duo to portray an incredibly unlikely event, and turn it into a unique and interesting little film.