TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride Review & Video: Danny Boyle's Riveting '127 Hours'
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2010
I'm fighting with my own feelings. I love Danny Boyle and I admire everything he achieved in his newest film, 127 Hours, starring James Franco as the real-life mountaineer Aron Ralston, but I didn't love the film. It's great, but not amazing, in my honest and humble opinion, and I'm wrestling with why exactly I feel that way and why I didn't get pulled into the film like I wanted to. In fact, my partner in crime Peter Sciretta and I recorded a video blog debating our feelings (which you can watch at the end), because he loved it and I had problems with it. It is a great film, but I think it just wasn't exactly what I was hoping/expecting to see.
This is one of those true-life stories we've spoken about enough before, so we know what happens. Ralston was out hiking in Utah in 2003 and slipped down a crevasse, where a boulder fell on his right hand, pinning his entire arm. He desperately tried everything to escape, but ended up stuck there for over five days (a total of 127 hours, hence the title) with little food and little water. It's an incredible story and I was fascinated to see this dramatization of what Ralston had to go through, but unlike Rodrigo Cortes' Buried (another stuck-in-one-place, fighting-for-his-life kind of film), I never started sweating and feeling anxious like I know I should've while watching him pinned for all that time. And since seeing the film a few hours ago, I've been thinking endlessly about why that was the case.
One of my own theories is that I'm inherently familiar with the outdoors. I grew up in Colorado, I've spent plenty of my life in the wild, never in a situation like this, but I guess I'm a little more used to it than most of the city-raised folk who will probably see this (just being honest). Coincidentally, I even grew up a few hours away from where Ralston was raised. I think the problem is that Danny Boyle's digital video, over-saturated style - that I normally love seeing (Slumdog Millionaire was one of my favorite films of 2008) - didn't really work for me with a wilderness story like this. I think I wanted to see more of the realistic, less stylized shots than the very trippy, flashback-filled, split-screen looks that Boyle is so well known for. And I think maybe that's what kept me at arms length (pun intended) from this.
Everyone is going to have a different experience watching this and based on the buzz I'm hearing coming from other people (including @slashfilm) who saw it today, most of them were a lot more captivated than I was. I'm not saying it's a bad film by any means, it's actually a great film, but I just couldn't get into as much as I could Slumdog Millionaire or Buried and therefore I couldn't love as much as either of those. I hate making comparisons, but my heart was racing during Buried, and it never was during 127 Hours. Boyle even admitted during the Q&A that he is an "urban filmmaker" (in style and sensibilities) who hates the outdoors and I think that really played against this time, at least with what I was hoping to see.
Then again, I'm not here to critique this because it wasn't what I wanted, and I'm trying not to do that, but I can't say I loved it for those exact reasons I mentioned above. My other complaint is that this really needed a proper, real score. I love A.R. Rahman (Slumdog's soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites), but it didn't work in this. It needed a more melodic, moody conventional score, but instead we get Rahman who sounds like he's experimenting with random instruments throughout the whole thing. Some of the songs in it are good and work in context, but the score was another part that I felt needed a lot of work.
Additionally, James Franco does indeed knock it out of the park with this, and in short I can say that there was never a moment where it seemed like he was "acting", it all felt genuine. He was a perfect choice for the role as well because he can play the range needed to portray Ralston, who is more wild, cocky and comedic than one might expect to see stuck in a situation like this, but Franco fits the bill and did a fantastic job.
I could go on and on talking about different elements that I loved and other elements that I didn't like (there were some comedic moments and flashback moments that also pulled me out) but I think it's best for me to just let everyone experience this movie on their own. However, I did debate with Peter (and you can read his glowing review of this film here) about all of those different elements in our video blog, which we recorded immediately after seeing the film up in the mountains in Telluride. I am anxious to revisit this film and you can be assured that I'll be addressing it again when its released, because I have so much to say about it. But for now, check out the video below for more analysis and stay tuned for more of my coverage from Telluride.