127 Hours
A brainwavez.org Film Review

South Africa By: Robert Lemmer on 18 February 2011
Category: Screen > Film > Reviews
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Sometimes a movie is so agonisingly painful to watch you feel as though you are trapped and need to cut yourself free to escape the experience. The reverse holds true in 127 Hours, in which James Franco expertly plays an outstanding character who must undergo a riveting but painful experience to remove himself from a (literal) rock and a hard place.

127 HoursBased on Between A Rock And A Hard Place, the autobiographical book of the experience, 127 Hours follows Aron Ralston (James Franco) as he recklessly ventures into the American wilderness without telling anyone where he is going. Out in the wilderness he gets his arm trapped beneath a boulder. Over a period of six days Ralston withers away hoping against hope that his next moment will lead to freedom thanks to the intervention of "eight burly men", as he puts it. In the end he must free himself, leaving behind his arm, but gaining so much more from the experience.

Ralston is equal parts life-affirming thrill seeker and reckless recluse: leading a beautiful pair of hikers to experience the Utah desert as they could not have done so without him and yet leaving home without his Swiss Army Knife. He isn't only a nice guy though, his belief in his own abilities at times comes across as arrogant and his disconnection from society, including his family and ex-lover, is difficult to understand. Trying to understand why he chose to go out on his own and why he is such a loner is part of what makes the character of Ralston so interesting to watch.

In the climactic moment of the film Ralston has to use a knife from his knockoff Leatherman multipurpose tool, a gift from his mother, blunted from days of useless hacking at the rock trapping him, to cut off his arm, thereby freeing him. It is a choice he has to make in order to survive and is not one Ralston takes lightly. He is ingenious in his attempts to free himself but nothing works and, as he puts it eventually in a lucid moment, he and the rock have been on a collision course all their respective existences: he was meant to get trapped there and the rock was meant to trap him.

127 Hours

Ralston is not just outdoorsman and philosopher; he also has a sense of humour. It comes across in his interactions with the hikers at the start of the film, played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara, and in his video diaries. He uses his camcorder to document his experience for anyone who might find his body, leave some final words for his parents and sister, and have fun, recording a mock talk show to pass the time and to keep from losing hope.

127 HoursJames Franco brings Ralston to multidimensional life in a career-defining performance. When Franco smiles it feels genuine. It is an easy smile and comes to his face with almost no effort, drawing you in and you feel closer to whatever character he's portraying. You smile when Ralston smiles. You feel Ralston's pain when he breaks the bones in his arm, or thinks he hears people nearby and he screams to get their attention. You want him to get out of that canyon. Franco makes these moments real.

I've enjoyed James Franco in almost everything I've seen him in. He projects likeability with little to no effort, even in roles in which we're meant to think of him as the bad guy, such as in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy of films. If you could not relate to Ralston, you would not care for him or his predicament. Franco brings this man to life beautifully. Ralston is a funny, reckless, exceptionally self-assured man who enjoys being alone. He believes completely in his own abilities and trusts in them implicitly; he can do anything without anyone else's help. Getting stuck is a huge wakeup call but it does not squash his spirit as he attempts to extricate himself.

The film is directed by Danny Boyle, who, like Ralston, also does the impossible: make a film that is set almost entirely in a cramped single location with one actor watchable.

127 HoursBoyle is an amazing director; his ability to convey ideas, mood, and emotion purely through images is incredible. His mastery of the filmic medium is what makes this movie possible, and watchable. Boyle manages to make being in a gorge with one character for more than two-thirds of a film interesting. You are right there deep in that crack in the ground with Ralston and you experience the claustrophobia and desperation of not being able to leave. You will know the canyon Ralston is stuck in completely by the end of the film. The monotony of the hours passing away, the simple joy in the brief touch of a little sunshine on his feet, the agony of freezing temperatures at night, and the deliberation of carefully measured mouthfuls of his precious supply of minimal water: somehow Boyle always finds a way of showing these moments in a way that is captivating to watch and draws you more into the situation. He uses a large variety of techniques to show the canyon in its entirety. There are many moving shots and unexpected angles that help to keep the film fresh and interesting. A good example of an odd shot that helps add to the desperation of the situation is from inside Ralston's water bottle. You see how little water he has left, and his agony at finding none is conveyed.

Something else that helps to keep the movie engaging is the use of flashbacks and, as Ralston's physical and mental faculties degrade, hallucinations. Boyle has used hallucinations before in Trainspotting, and they are perfect here too to show Ralston's decline. Frequent video diaries Ralston records with his camcorder also help to change the perspective and connect us more closely to him as he says his last goodbyes, and describes his situation to whomever finds his camera. The use of the camcorder does not become unrealistic such as in other films in which the battery life seems to last forever. Here it is used sparingly and realistically, with an unobtrusive indicator helping to keep track of how much battery charge and tape are left.

127 HoursThe film, despite its male lead, is filled with skilled female actors in supporting roles, such as Clémence Poésy. They help flesh out the world around Ralston. There is also a great cameo from Treat Williams as Ralston's dad. Though some of the actors are recognisable to those who watch many movies or a lot of television none of them play their characters in a larger-than-life manner, keeping the focus on Franco and his portrayal of Ralston.

The soundtracks in Boyle's films are always a treat. They are often filled with pop songs evoking easy emotional connections, and 127 Hours is no different. This can sometimes come off as cheap and distracting in other films. In 127 Hours they are employed strategically and appropriately, very much a part of Boyle's overall style. The original music in the film, composed by A. R. Rahman, who also composed the music for Boyle's 2009 multiple-Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, feels drawn from Ralston's soul, playing in concert with his feelings and state of mind.

Sound in general in the movie helps to make the situation more palpable; from the skittering of little pebbles to the distant flow of air beneath a frequent feathered visitor in the sky above Ralston's canyon, the sounds really help accentuate certain details. In the climactic scene in the movie when Ralston cuts his arm free sound is especially important. The skill of the sound design makes you think you saw everything despite clever editing that actually prevents you from seeing the entire gory experience.

127 Hours

127 Hours is worth seeing to marvel at a director who is at the top of his game, an actor who is delivering a truly believable performance, and a story that will leave you inspired.

The movie screening for review purposes was courtesy of Nu Metro. 127 Hours opens on circuit in South Africa today, and is up for six awards at this year's Academy Awards, which will be held at the end of February.





brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 8/10
In One Word: Gruelling



Key Facts: 127 Hours
Year: 2010
Running Time: 94 minutes (approximately)
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Format: Feature; Widescreen 1.85:1; Colour
Language: English
Country: USA
Credits:
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast:
127 Hours
James Franco ... Aron Ralston
Amber Tamblyn ... Megan McBride
Kate Mara ... Kristi Moore
Clémence Poésy ... Rana
Sean Bott ... Ralston's Friend
Lizzy Caplan ... Sonja
Treat Williams ... Ralston's father
Kate Burton ... Ralston's mother
Producers:
Bernard Bellew ... executive producer
Danny Boyle ... producer
Christian Colson ... producer
Lisa Maria Falcone... executive producer
Tom Heller... co-producer
Original Music: A. R. Rahman
Film Editing: Jon Harris
Casting:
Rie Attridge (local casting)
Katie Jensen (extras casting)
Tori Silvera Bush (location casting)
Production Design: Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Art Direction: : Christopher R. DeMuri
Set Decoration:
Les Boothe
Cynthia A. Neibaur (co-set decorator)
Costume Design: Suttirat Anne Larlarb




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