127 Hours Review


Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is an absolute triumph on every level imaginable. It’s difficult to sit through, but Boyle gives it the magic touch and turns this dark, disturbing story into something that’s ultimately hopeful and inspiring. It’s spectacularly directed—Boyle deserves another Oscar for his work—and brimming with the same energy that made his last film, 2008 Best Picture Slumdog Millionaire, such a triumph. In fact, much of the Slumdog team—including cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and composer A.R. Rahman—are back again and are absolutely on top of their games. Nearly every aspect of this film is perfect—including the amazing performance by James Franco and the way Boyle elects to film “the big scene.” Would if I could say where the film fails or takes a misstep, but I’ve got nothing. It’s the best new film in years.

I assume just about all of you are familiar with the story of Aron Ralston by now, but if not and you don’t want it spoiled, you should probably stop reading now. Ralston (Franco) was a 27-year-old wild man back in 2003, when he ventured into Utah’s Blue John Canyon for a fateful adventure. Although gregarious, Ralston is a loner at heart who takes his friends and family for granted. He doesn’t even bother to tell anyone when or where he has gone. That mistake proves to be costly when Ralston falls in a crevasse and gets his right arm trapped against a heavy boulder. Short on supplies and water, Ralston struggles to free himself, and over the course of the 127 hours he’s there, he learns a thing or two about life and the poor choices he’s made. Unwilling to accept defeat, however, Ralston makes the ultimate choice—the choice to survive. He cuts his arm off with a dull multi-functional tool and rappels down the rock to safety.

Let’s begin with the star of the show—Danny Boyle. Stylistically, the film is just brilliant. The director manages to bring this quick pace and real sense of energy to a film about a man stuck in a rock for 5 days. That helps invest us in the story, but what really makes it special are the moments in which Boyle slows things down. When we see Aron reminisce about the poor way he’s treated others, about the mistakes he’s made, we begin to understand why and how he was able to do what was necessary to escape. For a while, it appears he has accepted death, but these few little scenes show us how much he regrets and how badly he needs to make up for his behavior. By including these moments—and by integrating them into the rest of the material so uniquely and seamlessly—Boyle crafts a very personal film that elicits a surprisingly strong emotional reaction.

It’s also impossible to discuss 127 Hours and Boyle’s direction without mentioning the amputation scene. Franco’s grandma would be proud to know that I’m not a pussy. I did keep my eyes open throughout the scene, though I have to admit, it wasn’t easy. It’s even more realistic than I anticipated, and the camera doesn’t flinch from showing you everything. I thought going in there were dangers in doing it this way. Because everyone knows it’s coming, I thought there would be this sense of dread throughout the rest of the film as I waited for the big moment to come. There is a sense of dread, but not because of this scene. It’s because Boyle and his team do such a good job making us feel what Ralston did. And when it finally comes, we, like him, are ready for it.

Of course, in a film of this nature, you have to have a knockout lead performance for it to succeed, and Franco is just outstanding—the best we’ve ever seen him. The crazy thing is that he has hardly anyone else to rely upon. It’s just him, a video camera, and his character’s dire situation. Yet, the actor brings a naturalism to the role that makes what he does feel effortless. He goes through a full range of emotions, and not a single one feels false coming from Franco. He’s also able to inject some much-needed humor into the thematically dark film (like his Johnny Carson-esque interview of himself).

Technically, the film is on another level compared to most of its 2010 counterparts. The cinematography is the best of the year. If you thought Black Swan felt claustrophobic, just wait until you see this film. It’ll make you squirm in your seat. The editing is phenomenal, with lots of fast cuts and split screens that help sell the idea that Aron is his own man, though that might not be the best way to live. The score is eclectic—soft when it should be and intense the rest of the way. And in the original score category, I’m not sure anything could or should beat Dido’s “If I Rise,” which plays just before Ralston does the deed, so to speak.

In my humble opinion, Fox Searchlight has just bungled this film’s release. There’s no way it should be this hard to fight more than two months since it officially opened. What once seemed like a Best Picture lock is now struggling to get in, and Boyle’s chances for Best Director seem dead in the water. It’s a shame it hasn’t found its audience yet. I understand that it’s a tough sell, but if Lionsgate can get millions of people to watch people get tortured in the Saw films, a studio like Fox Searchlight should be able to get folks to come out to a film this good, no matter how bloody one scene might be, right? I mean, films like this don’t come along often, but when they do, they deserve to be treasured.

In the hands of a different director and actor, this story would have likely been harrowing but straightforward. Boyle and Franco, however, have created something more than that. 127 Hours is special. It’s a very visceral and emotional experience that will stay with you for quite some time. I didn’t think anything would be able to top Toy Story 3 on my list of the best films of 2010, but when the dust settles and I finally catch up with everything I plan to see, I’m almost certain 127 Hours will take the prize.

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