Much ado has been made of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, the cinematic retelling of a decidedly uncinematic true story; the one of thrill-seeker Aaron Ralston, who, in 2003, became trapped in a canyon in Utah and was forced to amputate his own arm after 127 grueling hours.
In Boyle’s version, Ralston (terrifically played by James Franco) first experiences hallucinations and eventually moments of epiphany during his harrowing 6-day ordeal. Through his script (co-written by Simon Beaufoy), Boyle makes his movie about more than just what happened to a man, but about the importance of not shunning society. It’s only through his arduous week-long isolation that Ralston realizes he’s been isolated longer than he knew.
My thoughts are split pretty much straight down the middle on this film, so I’m going to organize them into a paragraph on what I loved about it, and a paragraph on what I really didn’t love about it.
What I loved: Kudos to Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, and producer Christian Colson (all of them Oscar winners for Slumdog Millionaire you’ll recall) for having the brass balls to try and put a story like this on the big screen. The entertainment industry is woefully deficient in filmmakers who are willing to take risks, push boundaries, and challenge themselves. I have nothing but respect and amazement for them having delivered something inventive and original. But the film’s biggest ace is star James Franco, who holds all 90 minutes of the movie almost entirely by himself. What I’ll ultimately remember 127 Hours as is a gripping performance piece from a skilled actor. I also sing the praises of Boyle’s audio team for assembling a slick sound design.
What I didn’t love: This is every inch a Danny Boyle film. That’s not a knock against the auteur’s style, but I’ll explain. All of the stylistics of his previous work is there: split screens, frenetic editing, creative camera work, thumping music… which all worked swell for the likes of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, or Slumdog Millionaire. But for what is essentially a one-man show set within a crack in a rock, that aesthetic just didn’t fit. I didn’t feel the isolation and claustrophobia of Ralston’s situation because the distractions of Boyle’s approach kept removing me from the experience. I daresay the music and the editing ended up getting on my nerves.
The brilliance of Franco’s performance and the ambition of Boyle as a director are worthy of four stars, but the fact that I didn’t really feel any closer to understanding Ralston’s character bumps 127 Hours down to a respectable miss.
But I doubt it'll miss with Oscar. Nominations for Picture, Director, Actor, and Editing are pretty much assured, with likely nods for Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score, and possibly Original Song and Adapted Screenplay coming as well.
*** out of ****