Monday, 7 February 2011

127 Hours - The EXTREME feel good movie of the year.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 94 minutes
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
Distributors: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Based on Aaron Ralston’s autobiographical book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 127 Hours is the latest movie from director Danny Boyle after his Oscar victory with Slumdog Millionaire in 1010. Similar to Slumdog, 127 hours is an explosive celebration of life in all its glory and inherent catastrophe with all of Boyle’s trademark surrealist vision and vibrant energy.

It is spring 2003, and Aaron Ralston (James Franco) an extreme sports junkie goes to spend his weekend mountain biking and climbing around Canyonlands National Park in South Eastern Utah whilst taking pictures and filming video logs for his online blog. On this particular weekend of course, things go horribly wrong. Whilst traversing Blue John canyon, a narrow slot canyon, Ralston disrupts a loose boulder and traps his right arm between the canyon wall and the boulder. Alone and lacking communication links to the outside world, Ralston has 127 agonizing hours in the same spot hoping and waiting for help that seems increasingly unlikely to arrive. Weighing up his options and contemplating his life in general, he must face the prospect of cutting off his own arm with a basic utility knife in order to survive and escape the canyon.

So firstly, the event. The fact that Ralston cuts off his arm is no secret. The real Aaron Ralston has forged a career as an inspirational speaker out of his experiences as described in his bestselling book as well as a Dateline NBC special. You are watching the entire picture under a constant state of tension. In the first act, where Ralston’s character meets two female hikers and shows them a secret pool at the bottom of one of the canyons, (a sequence invented by Danny Boyle specifically for the movie) you are dreading the moment in which the accident happens, when the rock crushes his arm. After this occurs, you are watching the movie under pressure knowing that he will be forced to cut his arm off and you are now sensing this moment with dread. The actual moment of severment is obviously very very VERY nasty and no one can argue against this fact. Understandably, as the maker of Shallow Grave, Boyle knows how to do dismemberment making use of a particular sound effect as Ralston cuts deeper and deeper, severing the nerd (makes me grimmace as I write). It is a draining experience… and you’ve got to wonder why film goers put themselves through such an ordeal, especially when they know its coming... Well, I'm sure its better than watching Burlesque. Not that I've seen it of course. 

Luckily, you are not paying the inflated price of admission to savour a moment of graphic violence. The film is less about the obvious event and is more about the journey of self discovery that Ralston undergoes motivating into doing the deed. For a movie that is set within the narrow claustrophobic confines of a canyon, Boyle effortlessly applies his visual flair into charting Ralston’s thought patterns and memories as well as his dwindling mental state. There are scenes of quiet beauty, such as when Ralston catches the early morning sunlight as it enters the canyon, or the scenes reflecting an array of hallucinatory outer body experiences in which the character imagines himself anywhere but isolated within this awful rocky crevice. Then there is the dream sequence when Aaron imagines a storm floods the canyon causing the boulder to move effortlessly allowing him to swim free, in a subtle nod to Trainspotting. It is testament to Boyle as a film maker, on how much he can milk out of this confined space.

Aron Ralston blogging
 Of course, the success of the movie is also down to the performance given by James Franco, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young actors in Hollywood. He has come a long way since Spiderman to be sure (though in fairness he was the best thing about Spiderman 3). Franco’s portrayal of Ralston is one of a man who at the beginning is very selfish and egotistical, who perhaps takes a lot of things in his life for granted as a majority of people probably do. Like Boyle’s film style, Franco’s performance is equally as versatile, ranging from the sheer helplessness as he records a video message for his parents to an almost sinister comedic edge as he talks to himself as if he is hosting and starring in his own daytime chat show. 

Whilst 127 hours may not be as miraculous a real life mountain climbing disaster movie as 2003’s Touching the Void, it is a grueling and draining 90 minutes within the cinema. By the end of the whole ordeal, it can be aptly described as an extreme feel good movie, more so than Slumdog Millionaire which was famously and somewhat falsely marketed as ‘feel good hit of the year’. James Franco provides a shining performance of a man that slips into the brink of accepting his own pitiful demise to taking the initiative of his fate and going through a tremendous rebirth. It also has an absolutely brilliant soundtrack.

An account from the real Aron Ralston on 'the event' as part of a Dateline NBC special from 2004

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