Review: Danny Boyle's '127 Hours' is One of the Best of the Year
by Jeremy Kirk
November 16, 2010
Man is inconsequential to nature. It's a lesson the world teaches us from time to time, making it known that we aren't necessarily the ruling class on the planet. It's a lesson a young hiker, Aron Ralston, learned over the course of five days in May of 2003 when his right arm was pinned between a boulder and a rock wall. The struggle, pain, and ultimately, will to survive (which entails so much more pain) Ralston went through is now the basis of Danny Boyle's new film, 127 Hours.
127 Hours is a harrowing testament to Ralston and his overpowering continence that allowed him to walk away from that predicament not exactly unchanged. It's also a vital look at the nature of things, the world as we know it or maybe don't know it so well, and those instances where it might turn on us blindly no matter how much we might respect it. Above all else, 127 Hours is the closest to a flawlessly executed film to come across all year.
James Franco plays Ralston, an adventurer of all the far corners of the planet. Ralston is tired of the hustle and bustle of life, wants to drive past the mass marketing on every street corner to something a bit simpler. In May of 2003, he ventured to the desert near Moab, Utah. There, in Blue John Canyon, he found himself trapped. A boulder had come dislodged, both it and Ralston fell, and at the bottom of the canyon, the boulder came down on his arm. Ralston was trapped, unable to budge the heavy rock or himself no matter what he tried. That was the beginning of the five days, 127 hours, when Ralston had to overcome lack of water, lack of food, and exhaustion before resorting to drastic measures in order to free himself.
Boyle, never a director who never ends up in the spot of repeating himself, once again pulls off an incredibly accomplished piece of filmmaking. Put into the hands of someone who wanted to just make a straight forward narrative of Ralston's tale of persistence, 127 Hours would still have been a commendable film based solely on its harrowing narrative. Boyle isn't satisfied with convention nor does he ever take the path you might expect, cliche or not. From the basic structure of the film in which we never leave Ralston's side to the way Boyle handles the hallucinations Ralston experienced due to his thirst and lack of sleep to even the way the film's title presents itself, 127 Hours surprises and engages you with every fervid moment.
Those hallucinations in particular could have come across as hokey or ersatz. Boyle utilizes them to tell us more about Ralston, who he was as a child, what his family dynamic was like, and even who he could be if given the opportunity to live past this moment in his life. They grow increasingly emotional, as well, until they almost become Ralston's life blood, his one connection still present to the world outside this canyon. They are also what probably forced Ralston to take those drastic measures to continue his life in this world.
That moment is extremely intense. The whole film rides a level of tension even before Ralston becomes trapped. Boyle shoots the environment Ralston has ventured to with as much respect as possible, pulling the beauty and might of the world off in each and every frame of film. The moment Ralston becomes trapped is shot passingly, comes in an instant that neither Ralston nor the viewer could have prevented. The ensuing five-day struggle to hold onto life and sanity is equally shot with a fervor that grasps your interest, never allowing the confines of the locale appear boring or minimalist. However, once Ralston determines he is going to live, once he takes out the dull knife and begins the process of removing his own arm in order to free himself, literally like a fox in a trap, all else stops. Boyle doesn't pull away from the bloody ordeal, something many viewers might not be able to watch, but that's okay. There's an understanding there that maybe not everyone will be able to sit and watch Ralston do this to himself, but the attention to detail given in what he does is both undeniable and necessary.
Of course, that moment, as well as 90% of the rest of the film, could have been left to boredom and dulling rubric were it not for the staggering portrayal of Ralston that James Franco has provided. His range of emotions fully on display, Franco is fearless here, never coming across as wanting to hold back on any of the emotions Ralston went through over the course of those five days. Franco pauses in the most ideal of moments, particularly in the scene where Ralston, video camera on hand, makes a tape for his family and friends to see in the case he doesn't survive. It's one of dozens of emotionally charged moments in 127 Hours, and it hits home everything this man went through in a few glances this highly gifted actor gives to the camera.
Ralston's tale is a powerful one. The events that transpired and the will of one man to survive no matter what could have been put to film in the flattest and most monochromatic of ways, and it still would have been engaging given the material. What Boyle has done with this story, what he does with every story he films, is make the most interesting and exhilaratingly executed film to come along in quite some time.
The awe that comes from the viewer is pulled out of them both from Ralston's tortuous experience as well as Boyle's ever-present attempt and resounding success of making a fine film, and creating a piece of cinema the viewer has never seen before nor likely to see after. The two converge in 127 Hours, without a doubt one of the best films of the year, perhaps the best. It's an impressive tale of man's inconsiderable relationship to the world around him and the subjugating struggle to survive when nature decides to turn on us.
Jeremy's Rating: 10 out of 10