Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
Effectively translating true events into an at least moderately entertaining film is, believe it or not, no easy task. In tackling these sometimes mammoth undertakings, both the writer and director in question must do their best to embellish certain details for the audience’s sake while simultaneously making sure the integrity of the story itself remains intact. Even if all goes well and the end result emerges as an above average effort, there’s still a chance that the film’s underlying themes are as overused and clichéd as anything that’s come before it. With 127 Hours, director Danny Boyle faced many a similar obstacle in effectively retelling the story of Aron Ralston: a ballsy outdoorsman who gained notoriety after he was forced to amputate his own arm following being trapped in a small crevasse during an excursion through Blue John Canyon, Utah. Surprisingly, director Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have managed to avoid just about any and all conventions in transforming something that was widely considered “unfilmable” into a cinematic triumph.
It’s hard not to liken 127 Hours to 2007’s Into the Wild, what with the basic elements in both remaining startlingly comparable right up until each protagonist’s supposed fate has been realized in the fullest. Unlike the latter, it’s made sure that Ralston’s ability to acknowledge his own arrogance plays a vital part in his eventual life-saving decision, allowing him to take something of infinite value away from the entire experience that aids in a much-needed moment of clarity, self-realization and maturation. It’s with these things that we’re offered the chance to sympathize with Ralston, or at least Franco’s utterly compelling portrayal of the famed canyoneer, in spite of the shortcomings that landed him in this predicament in the first place.
As one might expect, the film also reveals itself to be especially moving emotionally, even if any and possibly all poignancy may exit one’s mind swiftly when we’re faced with its unflinchingly (and borderline excessively) gory final act. Aided by some stellar editing and Boyle’s savvy direction, the flashback sequences that are partly responsible for this quality are a welcome departure from Aron’s perpetual struggle for survival, even though said struggle unquestionably remains the film’s riveting centerpiece. In offering some valuable insight into the mind of our protagonist however, the aforementioned sequences are pitch perfect, giving us a glimpse into the mind of one deeply regretful individual whose will to survive for the sake of those he loves greatly outweighs his glaring selfishness, even if it did take a near death experience for this epiphany to occur.
Outside of an admittedly eventful opening act, the idea of observing one person fighting for his life whilst pinned beneath a boulder may not appeal to all, regardless of whether or not the goings on inside the canyon are as engaging as they are. This folks, is where Mr. Franco comes into play. In a simply brilliant career turn, the man in question has provided us with one of the most memorable and flat-out believable performances of the past decade. From the film’s lighter side to that of the exceedingly grim and sometimes violent, Franco makes these transitions as smoothly as possible and in the most authentic manner, never once showcasing anything unfavorable by way of overacting or coming up short during the film’s more demanding moments. As for the supporting cast, their efforts are indeed noteworthy, yet their involvement is very easily overshadowed by the man in question notwithstanding their contributions to Aron’s newly acquired, self-bettering frame of mind.
In conquering the supposedly unconquerable, Danny Boyle has quite easily transformed a remarkable true story of survival into a thoroughly fascinating film adaptation. Even though the most talked about scene of any film to be released this year is as graphic as can be, it’s hard not to acknowledge its importance in effectively illustrating what Aron had endured in order to exit the rocky tomb with his life. Benefiting from some excellent pacing that coincides wonderfully with several appropriate and reasonably involving flashback sequences, 127 Hours hits all the right notes when bouncing back and forth between the past and present, never once letting go of the appreciable air of tension that plagues Aron’s every thought and move as the film nears its poignant and gratifying conclusion. Firmly anchored by James Franco’s dynamite performance, 127 Hours is certainly a landmark achievement in filmmaking, even if it isn’t quite perfect.