What would you do to stay alive? Kill another human being? How about torture and mutilate them horribly? In a much gorified fashion, the Saw series tasked individuals in a “game” with answering these and more damning questions. Breaking away from the simplistic horror angle, Danny Boyle instead ties this question to a harrowing real life event in 127 Hours.
The event, as by now you’ve probably heard (and subsequently forgotten about since it was reported on years ago), is the one in which a trapped adventure-seeking, rock climber, Aron Ralston, resorted to doing the unthinkable to survive in the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah. I suppose I could spell out what he had to do since it won’t do any harm to the viewing experience but I’m not going to do it. If you don’t know, it offers up an extra knot in your stomach once it is revealed. If you do know it, well then, you know it and you’ve already got a knot in your stomach. Anyways, transpiring over five days, Boyle immerses us in Ralston’s anguish, his desperation, and, ultimately, in his courage.
To pull off a movie that is quite literally about a guy stuck in a crevice, a powerful performance from the lead is a must. And yet just like Rodrigo Cortés did with Ryan Reynolds in Buried, Danny Boyle went against conventional wisdom and cast an actor not necessarily known for his acting chops. The protagonist of 127 Hours is played by James Franco (although to be fair, Franco, with Howl, proved he can carry a film). Both risks turned out to be brilliant moves by the directors. Franco lays himself bare to the audience, putting his everything into the character and into the moment, making it nearly impossible to pull your eyes away from the screen. Quite simply, he puts forth the performance of his lifetime.
Of course, the manner in which the film is shot aids in his delivery.
127 Hours starts off full of life and wide, beautiful shots; Aron is heading out to do what he loves and what he’s done countless times before — hiking, and climbing, and mountain biking. In just these few minutes, we get a feel for this guy and his love for outdoor living. And then just as quickly, it all comes to a crashing halt. He’s alone and stuck like a rat in a trap. All his struggling is for naught. Death is waiting. Only his survival skills — keeping calm, rationing of food, etc. — can keep him alive. For how long is an entirely different question and is what Aron ultimately struggles with.
During this time, even though the camera is glued to Franco in a confined space, Boyle never lets the scene get stale. He employs many ingenious angles to break up the monotony and makes excellent use of the camcorder Aron brought along for the trek. This vantage point provides another opportunity for the viewer to further connect with Aron as he basically shoots his living will before our eyes — looking into our eyes.
As for the climactic scene, even if you know what it is, be ready. Boyle doesn’t glorify it but it is real, in your face and it ain’t pretty. I’m wincing now while thinking about it.
127 Hours is a shining tribute to the will to live. Danny Boyle outdoes himself (which is saying a lot). James Franco definitely surpasses all of his previous work with this one man show. This film will affect you one way or another, whether you want it to or not. I strongly recommend seeing it. (I also recommend always exploring the great outdoors with a guide).