19 November 2010

Review: "127 Hours"

I remember being in university in 2003 and reading about mountain climber Aron Ralston's incredible story about being trapped by a rock for more than five days. 127 Hours is directed by Danny Boyle, who won an Academy Award for Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and adapted by Simon Beaufroy from Ralston's own memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. 127 Hours is an incredible film that left me completely mesmerized and often out of breath. Those familiar with Ralston's story will be prepared for the film's climax, but it is extremely hard to watch and there were even numerous reports of viewers fainting during its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Many films depend on one singular performance but it is rare to have one actor perform on screen alone for extended periods of time. James Franco has never been better as Aron Ralston and his emotionally raw performance allows the audience to become thoroughly invested in the film. I was unsure how to approach a film about a man being trapped beneath a rock and was very surprised to see so many actors listed during the opening credits, but Danny Boyle does a great job contrasting Ralston's entrapment with hallucinations and flashbacks. The film, shot on location in Utah (Ralston was trapped at Robbers Roost in Utah), is beautifully photographed. The film's story, James Franco's performance and the beautiful imagery constantly left me awed. 127 Hours is an electrifying and thrilling film about one man's will to live that lives up to its reputation as one of 2010's must see films.

On a Saturday in April 2003 Aron Ralston decided to spend the weekend biking and mountain climbing in Blue John Canyon in the Utah desert. His family is aware that he spends his weekends hiking, but he did not return a phone call from his mother and ignored a call from his sister prior to leaving. Out in the wilderness he happens to meet two young hikers, Megan (Amber Tamblyn) and Kristi (Kate Mara), and spends the afternoon guiding them to their destination and making plans to meet at a party the next night. Aron mentions to the girls that he considers the area his second home. After parting ways with the girls 127 Hours becomes a frightening thriller as we await the inevitable. As he attempts to hike deeper into the canyon he becomes trapped after a falling boulder crushes his right arm. Aron is calmer than expected at first. He tries to pry his arm free and as time progresses he begins his cheap and very dull pocket knife to chip away at the rock. As Saturday turns into Sunday he begins going through his other equipment, eventually using his rock climbing equipment to allow him to get some rest. Aron eventually begins recording messages on his camcorder to his mother and father (Treat Williams and Kate Burton) and his sister (Lizzy Caplan). He even carves his name, birthday and expected death into the stone. The film opens with a shot of Aron reaching for his Swiss Army knife on the top shelf of his cupboard. He is unable to reach it and leaves without it, foreshadowing the film's incredible conclusion.

In 2008 Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire was the unexpected winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director (along with five other awards). It was his first taste of widespread success and brought with it a lot of expectations for 127 Hours. The two films are very different but there is a cohesiveness to his style. While Boyle was definitely the biggest name attached to Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours features a career-best performance from James Franco. It was not until Milk (2008) that I really took notice of his talents as an actor. He is a tremendous talent and he takes full command of the screen in this film. Personally, I see a comparison between his performance in 127 Hours to Natalie Portman in Black Swan. They are both talented young actors who have flourished under two very talented directors. Danny Boyle has once again proven his is a tremendous director with an electrifying film that left me speechless, but it is James Franco who delivers such an incredible performance that has left such an impact on me three days after seeing the film.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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