If I can say one thing about Danny Boyle, it’s that he is an extremely bold and visionary filmmaker. His last film, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, took a concept that I had little interest in, and he spun it in a way that was interesting and entertaining even if I felt it was slightly overrated. He is a director that has to be admired for his willingness to venture out and make a film completely different from the one before it. Now Boyle is back with 127 HOURS, a film that had the possibility to be painfully boring if certain important things weren’t firing on all cylinders. I’m happy to say though that despite its title, the time flies by thanks to Boyle’s visual style and James Franco’s powerful performance.
I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the story of Aron Ralston and why making a whole film centered around him is necessary or earned, so for the purposes of this review I’m going to leave out any specific details regarding the final 20 minutes or so of the film. 127 HOURS chronicles the results of skilled climber, Aron Ralston as he leaves to hike and climb some canyons. He runs into a couple of girls on the hike and shows them around a bit before eventually saying goodbye and going his own way. When going down to investigate a crevice a boulder he was using to support himself gives way and he falls along with the boulder before it settles trapping his arm between it and the wall of the mountain. Stuck with a limited amount of food and water he struggles to find a way to free himself from the boulder and fight to survive.
To be fair about my comment earlier about the film having the capacity to be dreadfully boring, the idea of the film is having to watch a single character stuck alone with no one around to talk to but himself, which means there would likely be several moments of silence. Also if James Franco hadn’t given this material his A game it would have been yawn inducing to see this character alone and talking to himself. I’m a fan of Boyle’s films and had faith in his ability to deliver a visually compelling and beautiful film and he does just that. The scenery is gorgeous, the environment is striking and draws the eyes with the bright and vivid colors along with the dark and shadowy caves in which Aron visits and is stuck in throughout the film. Boyle’s use of time lapse photography definitely gives the film a unique look and feel in the moments where we venture out and away from our main character’s predicament. The speed at which the film moves and how fast the incident occurs really gave everything a tense and slightly dark tone, but lots of the music, underlying humor and moments of character reflection keep things leaning towards hopeful and emotionally satisfying.
We’ve already had one fantastic performance in a one many show this year in BURIED with Ryan Reynolds, so I was curious to see if James Franco could do the same. Keeping in mind that 127 HOURS is a completely different type of film and also one that is based on true events, Franco turns in a terrific and powerful performance as Aron Ralston, but the majority of it is done with facial expressions, grunts and screams. When he does talk it’s usually when he’s whispering to himself, hallucinating or recording his thoughts on his handheld camera. The highlight of his performance for me is later on in the film when he whips out his camera and starts pretending that he is a guest on a game show, the result is very funny and also distressing as he comes down from the upbeat tone at the beginning to a realization that he might have to come to terms with his own death. Franco portrays the overly confident Ralston to fantastic results even though there were slight moments where I wasn’t totally satisfied with the emotional resonance of the scene. There were several small roles in the film that were all decent but the film is definitely Franco’s vehicle and he steers it almost perfectly.
As I mentioned before I don’t know how many people are familiar with the true events the film is based on, so I won’t give away the specifics of the concluding events, except to say that Boyle’s style of the scene composition make Ralston’s actions gut wrenching and the visuals incredibly gruesome and stomach churning. I applaud Boyle for lingering on the horror of the situation because it really added my ability to insert myself into the kind of thought process required to pull Ralston’s actions to fruition. One small detail that resonated with me, again without context, involves Raslton snapping a quick picture in the concluding moments which was a great character detail that given the situation and events that had just concluded, made me crack a little smile.
127 HOURS for me is a much better film than Boyle’s previous film, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and possibly my favorite of his so far. It’s an extremely well rounded film that is visually stunning and splendidly entertaining. James Franco gives a knockout performance that is among the best of the year. The film is a powerhouse of filmmaking between the sound design, visual look, the central performance and tense yet hopeful tone. Danny Boyle continues to be a phenomenal director and James Franco continues to look like a star; 127 HOURS is not for everyone and at times not for the weak stomached, but it without a doubt should be a film to been seen and admired for one reason or another.