While it’s a far cry from his star-crossed lovers film “Slumdog Millionaire,” director Danny Boyle still delivers a heart-pounding experience with “127 Hours,” a film that reeks of Oscar.
The movie chronicles the harrowing journey of Aron Ralston, a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie who soon finds himself between a rock and a hard place — pun intended. After a terrifying fall while exploring canyons in Utah, he becomes trapped when a fallen boulder pins his right arm to the canyon wall.
James Franco portrays the real-life adventurer with stunning ease, as if he were born to play this role. From the first second of the film, Franco brings a certain likability to the character. He is a suave yet outdoorsy smooth talker with some wayward female hikers. This quick characterization is crucial so the audience actually cares about him when he makes his untimely fall.
The truly amazing thing about this film is a semi-informed moviegoer knows how it will end, yet still goes, and is enthralled in it the entire time. (Spoiler alert: He cuts off his own arm to free himself and get away). That really isn’t a spoiler though, as the film is based off a real story.
That scene in particular was gory, gruesome, horrifying and beautiful. The film really lets the viewers imagine themselves in that situation and asks what they would do if push came to shove. Could you do it?
Still, the movie is given such great constraints. How could Boyle possibly concoct an interesting movie from what should be no more than a segment on “60 Minutes?”
For the bulk of the film, as expected, the giant boulder immobilizes Franco. However, somehow Boyle manages to pull it off, keeping the audience captivated throughout.
He uses an interesting split-screen technique at times to show viewers several different vantage points simultaneously. Franco’s character also has a video camera he uses to document his horrible adventure, which serves as a running monologue to the audience. This emotional element Franco conveys is what really keeps the viewer enthralled.
Boyle also cleverly uses flashbacks and hallucinations, which sometimes intertwine, to help pass the time. He does this to reflect the thoughts going through Franco’s mind. The film really does a great job of getting the viewer inside the character’s head. You watch his thought process as he methodically works through all of the different scenarios in which he could escape.
So is this one-man movie the new trend? Earlier this year, Ryan Reynolds climbed into a coffin for the duration of “Buried.” This style of film is incredibly simple in terms of action and plot, and instead explores the intricacies of human thought and wit. It’s much different than the typical Hollywood “shoot ‘em up” action flick, and for that I’m glad. “127 Hours” is truly a breath of fresh air.
Another recent Hollywood trend the movie rails against — time. It seems like most films these days like to push into the two or even two-and-a-half hour mark.
Many directors fail to realize quantity does not always equate to quality. Michael Bay, anyone? Fortunately, “127 Hours” is a fraction of its title, with a run time of just 94 minutes.
The Oscar movie season is really just beginning. With likely frontrunners such as “The Fighter,” “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech” not out in wide release yet, there is no way to predict how the chips will fall.
Still, “127 Hours,” is definitely worthy of this cinematic horserace. If nothing else, Franco deserves Best Actor for delivering a gut-wrenching performance that is raw, gritty and real.
He brings Ralston’s incredible story to life and easily propels the film forward single-handedly — pun still intended.