by Tim Ross
A few times a year, a movie comes along that elicits strong reactions in those viewing it. Some of those movies elicit laughs, some tears and some musings long after the final credits run. “127 Hours” provides all of those reactions and more; it has literally sent reviewers and screeners scurrying from their seats for physical and emotional relief.
When is the last time you heard about people literally fainting while watching a scene in a movie? And the scene in question, all of the story in fact, is based on true events. It is a powerful film with a powerful performance by James Franco, one of the best of the year.
Franco plays Aron Ralston, a happy-go-not-so-lucky adventurer who survives a horrific accident by confronting an unimaginable choice. But the film is less about the choice he makes to escape his fate than the choices he made that led to his odyssey in the canyon, helpless and trapped.
Aron represents many young people in today’s generation, perhaps all generations of youth; he is invincible, indestructible and he doesn’t need anyone’s help. Ralston is a seasoned climber and mountaineer but he makes a huge mistake usually reserved for amateurs – he didn’t tell anyone where he was going to be. Early on the day of his accident, Ralston bumps into and hikes with a pair of young women, Kristi and Megan (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn), but then off he romps alone again toward his final destination, a particularly narrow canyon he intends to navigate alone.
And alone with Aron is where we find ourselves for much of the rest of the movie as he struggles, rails against and ponders his fate, while we viewers are trapped right there with him. One man in a canyon might make for a very claustrophobic tale but that hurdle is overcome with panache.
“127 Hours” is brilliantly written and shot by Danny Boyle and it’s hard to imagine such a film being in more capable hands. The writer and director, whose credits include “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” knows that the core of the story takes place with the heroes body essentially static, but that doesn’t mean the movie is static.
Franco, as Ralston, undergoes a descent into despair and delusion that mirrors his aborted descent into the canyon. From that journey, Boyle is able to wing us out of the canyon on Ralston’s memories, flashbacks, hallucinations and premonitions. It’s at once heartbreaking and compelling, but never gratuitous. Anyone would become delusional trapped under a boulder in a remote canyon with little hope of escape and it’s a delusion that ultimately saved Ralston.
Perhaps the best writing in the screenplay is the moments without words. At several key points in the story, Franco expresses an intention with no words at all. He does so with his eyes, body and by pairing perfectly with Boyle’s inventive filmmaking.
Boyle makes many winning decisions in this film but perhaps the most important is to reunite with his musical partner from “Slumdog Millionaire,” A.R. Rahman. Anyone who remembers the driving, forceful and Academy Award-winning score from “Slumdog” will take another musically charged ride in “127 Hours.” We skip with Aron through the hills, look cautiously into crevices and squirm with discomfort and even despair at his plight as the music drags us, flings us and spins us along. At the climax of the film, there is one musical note, one, that along with Franco’s honest portrayal and the desperate situation, evoked the most visceral reaction I have ever experienced while sitting in a movie theatre.
You will not be comfortable in this film. You will not walk away unchanged and you will not have an easy hour and a half. But you will see movie making at it’s finest. The time you spend in the theater will be rewarded thanks to 127 agonizing hours one remarkable man endured and countless other hours a talented team of filmmakers and actors spent in telling his story.
Grade: 4/4 Stars