AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | November 1, 2010
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Lizzy Caplan
Leave it to Danny Boyle to turn a film about a man who was trapped in a canyon for 127 hours into a visual and audible assault on the senses. The opening credit sequence of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours immediately lays out his modus operendi via a split-screen onslaught that flashes a menagerie of brightly colored images of crowds of people rushing along city sidewalks and up and down escalators, swimming, praying, and running from the bulls at Pamplona; Boyle then integrates shots of Aron Ralston (James Franco) driving, biking, and hiking his way across gorgeous vistas toward Blue John Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. I suspect that this frenetic patchwork of images is supposed to represent how people from various cultures share Ralston’s addiction to adrenaline, but it plays more like a high octane commercial for an energy drink.
Maybe Boyle felt that it was necessary to spice things up since we already know how this story will end? The fact that the film is adapted from Ralston’s memoir Between A Rock And A Hard Place is an immediate clue that Ralston survives; and thanks to the title of the film, we know exactly how long he will be trapped. Unable to keep the audience riveted with the question of whether or not Ralston will survive, Boyle can only hope that the audience does not know how Ralston alluded certain death.
(This is around the time that I should warn you that 127 Hours is not for the squeamish. There are rumors that viewers at the Telluride Film Festival required medical attention; the woman in front of me screamed and shrieked a couple times and at least one person walked out; and I will be perfectly honest, there were quite a few moments that I directed my eyes far away from the screen.)
One would think that once Ralston winds up at the bottom of the canyon with a very large boulder crushing his right hand against the cavern wall, Boyle would be forced to settle down into this claustrophobic space. He does not. Boyle opts to continue to intersperse the 127 hours that Ralston is trapped with visual representations of thoughts and memories in Ralston’s mind. Boyle’s visualizations serve as a distraction from the reality of the situation. We are relentlessly bombarded with clips from Ralston’s video diaries, dreams, hallucinations and premonitions (we even see Scooby Doo!). As if Boyle suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, we are never permitted the time to sit back and experience Ralston’s feeling of being trapped. Boyle’s camera (and thus the audience) is free to escape the canyon at anytime. That is not to say that Franco is not given ample opportunities to convey Ralston’s ever-deteriorating mental and physical condition over the 127 hours — especially during the fleeting moments when Boyle actually allows us to watch Ralston intently focus on staying alive and trying to find a way out from the “pretty deep doo doo” he finds himself in.
Ralston had no girlfriend at the time of this accident, but Boyle is driven to create a love story nonetheless. Visions of Ralston’s ex-girlfriends flash onscreen, including a Cliff Note’s synopsis of his sensuous relationship with Rana (Clemence Poesy). In fact, Boyle spends so much time focusing on Rana that we can only assume that Ralston will go running to her and beg for forgiveness as soon as these 127 hours are over.
This against-all-odds man-against-nature survival saga teaches us several lessons: always carry a Swiss Army knife (no other brand will do); always tell someone where you are going; always answer the phone when your mother calls; and if you meet Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn while hiking (and if they seem totally into you) then you should change your plans and hang out with them rather than canyoneering alone.
127 Hours is a masterfully crafted film — the images are stunning and the editing is quite difficult to ignore. I suspect that many people are going to be wowed and amazed by Boyle’s film; but, for me, this was not the right film to convey Ralston’s saga. Music factors very prominently in the film (Boyle does not dare to allow us the opportunity to enjoy the eerie natural silence at the solitary bottom of the canyon) and I have to admit that I was not too into A. R. Rahman’s pulsing and pounding original soundtrack; but I did enjoy some of the pop songs that creep their way into 127 Hours — especially “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers and, one of my favorite songs ever, “Ça plane pour moi” by Plastic Bertrand.