Wednesday, 2 May 2012

127 Hours (2010, Danny Boyle)

The films of Danny Boyle have nearly always depicted extreme cases of survival,  but never more so than in his latest 127 Hours. The film's title refers to the amount of time our central character Aron Ralston was cut off from humanity - lost down a canyon with his right arm tightly lodged under a bolder. Ralston really went through this terrifying ordeal, cutting his arm off in the process. With James Franco as Ralston, he and Danny Boyle recreate the story a man pushed to the very limits of sanity and bring this modern example of Jonah and the Whale to the masses.

In an upbeat montage we're introduced to Aron in typical Boyle fashion; split screens, energetic editing, and a dance soundtrack set a tone we know cannot last for long. Our protagonist is a buzzing full of life character who is instantly shown to be reckless as he heads out the door with only basic provisions and neglecting his mobile phone. He is bold, fearless, and with sights set on risk taking; Aron is your archetypal adrenaline junkie.

There is fun to be had at the start as Aron shares his thirst for life with two girls hikers - jumping into hidden underground pools - of course this fun cannot last. As the three part ways and Aron continues on his lone quest disaster strikes, with his arm trapped firmly under a bolder and no one suspecting of where he set off to, Aron is truly alone. At this juncture the film really begins as Aron tries profusely but pathetically to lift the bolder realising he's stuck. As the hours pass by he slips in and out of fantasy, recreating or reliving past moments of family life and with his ex-girlfriend. Some of these backtracks into his childhood work better than others and an argument can be made for their inclusion due to the story having more or less one character and setting. However, 127 Hours works best when functioning at its most simple level. When Boyle decides to amp things up, show off some fancy camera work, and take us into Aaron's deteriorating mind, it often awkwardly detracts from the overbearing tension. That's not to say we should stick to Aron and observe on a completely objective level but the film would definitely be better off for a less is more approach, after all, with a story this compelling who needs extra padding and cinematic wizardry? Boyle is a very exciting and talented filmmaker but he fails to dampen his sensibilities as a stylist to match his subject, showing at times a lack of confidence in his actor and story to deliver what's needed, making for some il-ljudged moments.

James Franco holds the whole film together and maintains our attention in every frame. He's present in every scene and pulls of an extraordinary pained performance of a man looking within himself as death appears so imminent. At the end a journey has been completed with a much foreseen emotional climax included. Franco pulls of the incredible task of making a seemingly arrogant gung-ho character who (as he admits)  partially brought his fate down upon himself. The much talked about amputation scene is as gruelling as expected and won't leave you in a hurry, though this could have been much more if not for Boyle's hyperactive approach to parts of this brutal and brave action.

127 Hours is a success when viewed as a character study and a glimpse into the nightmarish experience of one man's survival and loneliness. Despite some sloppy directorial choices at times the film also excels in other areas, mostly in the film's aesthetics which stun thanks to cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Don Mantle, and of course in Franco's empathetically magnetic portrayal of a man who should have told his mum where he was going.

For fans of: Rescue Dawn (2006) Into The Wild (2007)