review written by Andrei Sipos on the 10th of March 2011
Much like every other industry of today, the world of cinema is becoming more and more advanced with each passing year. Improvements are being made around the clock and the art of filmmaking is getting less and less limited as new possibilities and advancements are being made in order to further the production of films and increase their entertainment value. Bigger and bigger budgets are becoming available for a single feature film, which allows filmmakers to explore new ways of delivering their creative work. But what of the restrictions? Ever since the rise of cinema as a form of entertainment, filmmakers were praised for being able to deliver impressive pictures even when bound by rules and limitations. Can the modern society still appreciate a great film created with limited resources and lacking diversity the same way people did a couple of decades ago?
After the critically acclaimed 2008 sleeper hit Slumdog Millionaire, which earned him an Oscar for Best Director, Danny Boyle returns with yet another interesting project which resembles nothing he’s ever done before. His most recent featured film, entitled 127 Hours, is based on true events and it tells a story of a canyoneering adventure gone bad. Boyle is known for his tendency to diversify in films, which have up to this point ranged from adrenaline-filled zombie horror flicks to full-fledged sci-fi thrillers and Bollywood-like tales of romance. Many appreciate him for his ability to take on all kinds of different projects and turn them into first-rate quality films, but how long can Boyle keep up his streak of success without encountering something that proves to be insurmountable?
Speaking of insurmountable, 127 Hours focuses on mountain climber Aron Ralston who gets his arm pinned against the wall by a boulder while on a canyoneering trip and as a consequence he remains trapped at the bottom of a canyon for more than five days. Without having told anyone where he was going beforehand, Aron must now resort to desperate measures in hopes of freeing himself and escaping the unfortunate situation that he has gotten himself into. James Franco stars in the leading role and his captivating portrayal of the adventurous Aron Ralston fits the bill perfectly and delivers just about everything a viewer can expect of his performance.
Much like Ryan Reynolds’ character in Buried, an earlier 2010 movie, 127 Hours takes place in a confined space and features James Franco in a one-man show where his performance can make or break the entire film. However, this movie isn’t set entirely in one location since the beginning follows Aron as he makes his way to the adventure trip that will change his life. Before falling victim to the unpredictables of canyoneering, he meets two lost female hikers, played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, and spends some time showing them around the canyons. As such, it does not make for an experience as claustrophobic as the one ‘Buried’ has to offer, but in terms of sending a message to the audience about the human will to live, it’s just as powerful, if not even more compelling.
127 Hours is not so much about Aron Ralsten trying to free himself, but rather it provides the audience with an intricate look into this character’s life and his present situation. It is a character study, if you will. Over the course of almost one week, Aron is helplessly stuck and we are stuck with him, never leaving his side for one second. Through a series of flashbacks and several hallucinations, we learn enough about this character’s past so as to be able to connect with him and hope that he will somehow find a way to free his arm from the boulder that’s keeping it trapped in place.
Clearly, what makes 127 Hours so effective is the character Aron Ralston, who wouldn’t have been portrayed in a more natural and humane manner by anyone other than James Franco. His outstanding performance is one of the film’s strongest points and he certainly deserves acclaim for his impressive achievement in acting. However, Danny Boyle’s contribution to the movie is just as noteworthy as Franco’s and those who doubted his directing skills up to this point will most definitely change their opinion of him for good. Not only does he manage to make a movie that takes place in a single location (again, for the most part) exciting and thrilling, but he also keeps finding all kinds of ways to capture the audience’s attention and keep their eyes glued to the screen.
I think that it’s safe to say that even though 127 Hours is directed by Danny Boyle, the film is no 28 Days Later, but there’s a particular scene that will have some viewers looking the other way or even abandon the entire movie altogether. Those who have heard even the slightest of things about 127 Hours will probably already know what I’m talking about going in, but I do not intend to spoil it nonetheless. However, I will say that even though I consider myself to be quite the gore buff, this scene had me occasionally hitting the pause button so that I could regain my composure. Definitely not for the faint of heart, that one.
Another aspect that helps turn 127 Hours into an excellent film is the cinematography. The various long shots featuring the canyons help capture their beauty and establish an excellent sense of locality within the movie. The dusty and curvy cliffs invade the screen as Aron Ralston travels throughout the canyons, crossing obstacles and traversing fascinating paths. Ultimately, Danny Boyle has proven himself yet again as one of the most talented directors working in the industry today and, with help of James Franco’s powerful performance, he has delivered an excellent picture backed by an inspirational tale of human perseverance and its triumph even in the direst of situations.