127 Hours

If I’m going to be frank, of all the prestige pictures swarming our multiplexes this awards season, 127 Hours was not one I was most buzzed about. I was even more excited about the prospect of seeing Blue Valentine, a gut wrenching kitchen-sink drama about the breakdown of a marriage, or Rabbit Hole, analysing how a couple react to the untimely death of their son. I’m not a miserable morose drip but personally it seems correct to say that films should really test the viewer with strong, multi-faceted plotlines and characters, avoiding a common filmic complaint: being slight, and leaving you with absolutely nothing. Thus, here is my biggest surprise of this awards season. A tale of a young man whose arm is stuck behind a fallen boulder in Utah and his attempts to quite literally become unstuck has never been so thrilling, and even more staggeringly, this is a movie which leaves an indelible, unshakable impression.

Kudos to Danny Boyle first of all for making very few changes to his source material, the experiences of the climber Aron Ralston, documented in his 2004 autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It would have been easy to notch up the dramatic gravitas by including maybe a small meteorite, obliterating the boulder that traps Aron’s arm but in a dramatic twist of fate, causing an even bigger boulder to land smack-bang on his left leg. Or Boyle could have introduced a scorned ex from his college days, coincidentally running into him after being freed from the boulder, and in a scene of exhausting emotional gravitas leaves the desperate Aron in the midst of the boulder to perish, followed by the Leona Lewis version of Snow Patrols ‘Run’. Danny Boyle keeps the story grounded, but makes it visually stark and pulse-quickening with a hyper-active, edgy use of his camera: split screens expertly dichotomising the city and the Canyonlands National Park, which makes Aron’s isolation even more apparent. One particularly grand scene also deserves a mention, in which a thunderstorm over the Canyon is depicted and then Aron’s departs from his accidental prison – this thunderstorm doesn’t look quite right, even a bit supernatural, and this lurid imagery is certainly a highlight.

Boyle’s direction is quite nearly flawless, if occasionally being a bit too glossy and Hollywood for what is essentially, a gritty and nasty tale. James Franco, however, is flawless. It might even be his most nuanced performance yet. This is one of those films that provokes your average Joe to proclaim ‘well this is what I would have done, if I was there’. Except you can’t, because everything Franco does in his portrayal of Ralston seems logical, likely and most pertinently, real. You would go a little bit stir crazy, (spoiler alert) seeing false thunderstorms, begging the flying bird above for help and creating a video diary that you would hope somebody would find in the near future and show your family. Franco here juggles the realistic portrayal of a guy getting slowly more despondent, crazy and desperate, with somebody who is quite stunningly, funny. This is, as I have said a gritty and nasty tale but don’t fret, Franco quite literally on occasions brings the light to this affair – an imagined gameshow with Aron as the host but also the contestant, his fate being incessantly mocked, is quite the highlight. In short, Franco is virtually the only character in the film and he carries it with aplomb; Aron comes across as appealing, the sort of guy you would want to be friends with, with a human, raw edge. Given it’s about a real living man (who notably gets a poignant cameo) Franco probably lacked the chutzpah to make him a bit more flawed but it really doesn’t matter. Franco has delivered a performance that fully justifies his Oscar nomination.

And finally, let us not forget the big scene that has made many a cinema-goer faint or vomit in the cinema. They weren’t being hyperbolic. Boyle holds no punches here and the amputation scene is vivid and clear. It is all the better for it.

127 Hours depicts the harsh reality of a man whose dream lifestyle as an adventurer has nearly killed him and the realities of someone who to save himself, has to go through unimaginable pain. The film’s engrossing nature comes from this stark approach. In fact, if the film shares anything with anybody, it’s a South London ‘rude gyal’. ‘You know what I am, I’m real’, she bleats. Whilst she’s probably saying this to gain some credence, 127 Hours isn’t. It’s necessarily real to the core and thanks largely to Mr Franco, it transcends the slight nature of its premise. It’s a constant emotional crescendo of an experience, in which the human, not the boulder, holds the true clout.


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