In the summer of 2003 rock climber Aron Ralston was working his way through a canyon in Utah when a boulder dislodged, forcing him down into the canyon and pinning his arm against the rock face. Alone and with limited food and water Aron was forced to endure a gruelling test of both his physical and mental will. Finally after five days and confronted with the cold reality of his own death, Aron was forced to do the unthinkable in order to survive. This shocking true story forms the basis of the latest offering from Oscar winning filmmaker Danny Boyle, 127 Hours. Spiderman’s James Franco takes the lead in what is essentially a one man show, placing us alongside and within the mind of Aron during his ordeal, and mapping the path that lead towards that infamous scene involving a pen knife that we all know is coming.
Like 2010’s Buried, 127 Hours is a film where the viewers world exists almost entirely within the physical realm of its protagonist, Franco spends ninety minutes trapped in a canyon so we spend ninety minutes alongside him. But unlike Buried, which consisted solely of the one physical location, Boyle is telling a much more philosophical story. He successfully uses cutaways, flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations to take us deeper into Aron’s mind, making the film far more accessible to the viewer than Buried was. The film has a deeply poetic look to it as well, where as another director may have gone for a naturalistic approach to the story Boyle’s camera is in constant motion, pushing past rocks into imaginary living rooms and house parties. However this was a film that was going to be made or broken on the strength of the performance of its lead and James Franco deserves credit for the sterling job he has done. He is in every frame of the film, and shooting the more physical scenes must have surely been a challenge but he brings a depth to Aron that makes the trial he suffers all the more harrowing to watch.
Aron’s story received worldwide coverage, and even those who had never heard of him, have been made aware of just what he was forced to do by the hype surrounding the film. If you haven’t I won’t ruin it for you now, suffice to say that it is a realistic and powerful scene that may prove a bit much for the more squeamish viewer. Boyle is aware that his audience knows it is coming and plays upon their expectation to add to the tension of the piece. But it is important to not dwell on this one scene too much as it is a part of a much greater story, a story that is well constructed in narrative, and inspirational in its depiction of the human will to survive. 127 Hours is an enjoyable film to watch, it is well written, brilliantly performed, and has alarmingly good cinematography for a film about a man trapped in a canyon. It may not go down as a classic, but it is unique and interesting enough to keep you captivated from beginning to end.
Review by Elliot Hyams