Review: ‘127 Hours’-Filming between a rock and a hard place

3 12 2010

James Franco as Aaron Ralston in "127 Hours"

Danny Boyle’s follow up to his Best Picture winning Slumdog Millionaire (2008) is a completely different picture, yet still wildly entertaining. Full review after the jump…

 

 

 

 

 

The Details

127 Hours (2010, 94 minutes, rated R)

Directed by: Danny Boyle (see also: Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 28 Days Later…(2002), and Trainspotting (1996)

Written by: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, adapted from Aaron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn

The Review:

I saw this movie on Thanksgiving day with my brother and my dad. We sat around for a good hour trying to decided on what to go see when I finally suggested this one. I attempted to describe the basic plot to my brother who then gave me one of those “why would I ever want to see that?!” kind of looks. Basically it’s about a mountain climber named Aaron Ralston who goes off by himself in the middle of Utah to climb and then rappel Blue John Canyon. This isn’t anything new for Ralston who is an engineer by week and adventurer by weekend. Most people are familiar with what happened to Ralston in 2003 and the films stays as very close (according to Ralston himself) to the actual events. Aaron falls, gets his arm trapped underneath a boulder and stands there for five days trying to get out until he finally hacks off his own arm and escapes to safety. That does not sound like a movie I’d ever want to watch. A guy stands there for 85 minutes and at the end he cuts his arm off? How is that fun, I can watch Saw if I want that kind of thing. But what is so surprising about 127 Hours is how relentlessly entertaining it is. I believe that in the hands of a less capable director this material could have been torturous or just plain boring. But Boyle is at his best here, taking complete control and using all his trademark directorial tricks to make a movie that, rather than focuses on Ralston’s plight and letting James Franco whine in pain for an hour and a half, celebrates life and the human experience.

Boyle is a manic director; here he loves to split up the frame, showing action from three different angles at once. There is almost constant movement (impressive for a movie that takes place mostly in a chasm with a trapped man) and the result is a visual feast. He cleverly uses flashbacks and delirious Aaron visions to get out of the cramped chasm. He highlights the beauty of the Utah mountains rather than making them dark and ominous and the colors are beautiful throughout. Boyle collaborates once again with A.R. Rahman (Oscar winning composer of Slumdog Millionaire) and this soundtrack sure does move. Rahman and Boyle use all kinds of musical styles that really help keep the action moving in a really interesting way. And finally there is the sound editing. Sound isn’t something that I notice in most films, it should be seamless and I think that’s what the editors strive for. But I sure noticed the sound in this one. Every tiny detail and minute action has a sound to go with it, creating a visceral experience. You’ll feel it every time Aaron scrapes up against the rock wall, and you’ll feel his pain when you hear a water bottle fall. The attention to detail builds for a truly satisfying (though hard to watch, in a good way) climax.

And I’ve gotten this far without talking about possibly the best part of the whole movie: James Franco’s incredible performance. Franco will get an Oscar nomination, no doubt about it. He has the incredibly daunting task of carrying almost the entire film on his shoulders and his single performance. He plays Ralston with enough humor to keep us entertained and from getting bored, but with enough sincerity to believe that this really is a man facing the end of his life if he doesn’t so something about his situation, no matter how gruesome the result. This movie depends on a key central performance and Franco delivers.

The Verdict:

One of the best films of the year. It’s a great follow up to Slumdog for Boyle and an incredible turn for James Franco. It’s the kind of movie that as you watch it you think to yourself, “This is a good movie. I don’t know why, I just know it’s good.” Films like 127 Hours are why I love movies.

Whose movie is it?

Although it depends on a key, powerful performance from Franco, this is Danny Boyle’s movie. Another actor could have performed on Franco’s level (not to take away from his amazing performance) but this film, from end to end, feels like a Boyle picture, using all his tricks, styles and trademarks.

Last Word:

Go see this movie. If Academy voters can get past a few minutes of blood at the end this will be a big contender at this year’s Oscars. Franco will get the nod, Boyle could be looking at his second nod in the last three years.

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4 responses

3 12 2010
Scott Braithwaite

Sounds good! Maybe I’ll stop by once in awhile.

4 12 2010
chrislashley

Vomit. I’m sure it’s a good movie, but I don’t want to vomit and I get queasy thinking about the story without seeing any blood.

4 12 2010
matthewmccleary

Yeah, that scene is pretty graphic, and they had a team of medical experts on set to ensure the utmost reality in the special effects and makeup. But as Mitchell said, “they made it classy.” As classy as hacking one’s arm off can be.

8 01 2011
CMrok93

James Franco, who is rapidly emerging as one of the most promising actors of his generation, matches Boyle’s technical brilliance with a mesmerising depiction of Ralston’s strange internal journey.

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