After his great success with Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle returns with the new movie,127 Hours – an extraordinary story about recklessness, bravery and the astounding volition to survive no matter what the price!
127 Hours, which is based on the memoir Between A Rock And A Hard Place, tells of jaunty, happy-go-lucky outdoor junkie Aron Ralston. In 2003, whilst climbing the Blue John Canyon, he fell into a deep, narrow crevice in the Utah mountains, whereby his right arm became lodged between a boulder and the canyon wall. He told no one where he was going so he spent the next five days isolated in the empty canyon struggling to survive. In the canyon he looks back at the mistakes he made in his life and realizes in order to survive he will have to undertake drastic measures. With his arm lodged under a boulder the only way to get out is to do the unthinkable and cut off most of his upper right appendage.
Now the biggest challenge for co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy was that as most people were familiar with the story, he and director Danny Boyle had to write the movie, in a way where people forget what they already knew. To call the film “the one where he cuts his hand off” would be a massive injustice to it. For a film where the main character is practically in the same place, Boyle, Beaufoy and Franco have created a heart-pounding, mesmerizing action thriller – giving you so much more then you would expect. Danny Boyle has once again adopted a kinetic style to inject pace into a story which probably would have fallen flat on his feet if directed by someone else. He utilizes flashbacks, hallucinations and heart-pounding music to drive the film. Ralston’s hallucinations are highly fascinating; he envisions a flash flood where he is sucked under water in a matter of seconds, he talks of his ordeal as if he is a talk show host, and we see a montage of soda commercials when he is desperate for hydration, which I have to say was a nice touch. By using his signature kinetic style and visual prowess he takes a simple story and embellishes but avoids overabundance and thus protects its authenticity and honesty. Despite a few slow moments the story is always moving at an incredible pace, especially when you would consider the nature of the story – a bloke stuck in the same place for 70 odd minutes.
Hey there, Aron! Is it true that you didn’t tell anyone where you were going? – Aron As The Talk Show Host
Aron tries everything to escape from the boulder using all possible means at his disposal; he chips away at the rock with a blunt pocket knife, he tries to elevate and move the boulder with several pulleys but it weighs 800 pounds, until what else is there left to do? That’s when Boyle and Beaufoy astutely realize where the real drama is – in Aron’s mind. The real question; why is he down there and why does no one know where he is? Boyle deserves praise for being brave with his experimental exploration of Aron’s psyche and in effect he proves to be crackerjack at expressing Aron’s altered states. Aron’s video camera is pivotal for this narrative. It allows him to exhibit monologues about how he’s feeling at given a moment, it serves as a confessional – a way of recording emotional messages for his family and it also serves as the cinematic device for which we can jump down into his past. So we see his astounding breakup with his ex-girlfriend and how he regrets ignoring his mothers calls.
Boyle also takes advantage of the outdoor so that the film is equally visually immaculate. The film consists of some visually stunning pieces, reflective of the work of two cinematographers, Oscar-winner Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak who shot 28 days later. Both convoke the brilliant landscapes of Canyonlands Park outside Moah, Utah with some devastating set pieces. When Aron has just had the accident and calls for help, the camera pans out of the crevice and out of the park; where we begin to realize how alone and how cut off from mankind he really is. Literally the vast emptiness of the whole derelict consumes and chews up his cries for help. Also, Aron is basically in the same place and same position for the whole film yet Boyle utilizes a range of inventive camera angles and style to document his ordeal providing the motion of the film, and lets not forget the creative water-bottle camera.
The film is more then a survival film; its really about a man who turns his life around when put in the most dire of circumstances. It’s a coming-of-age tale about all of us and the second chance we have to change the way we treated the people in our lives; the way we wish we could maybe right some of those wrongs and live are life for the better. Essentially Aron goes in as this superhero character who believed he didn’t need any one and comes out as a flawed individual, and it is this transition which I believe is the biggest achievement of the film.
The opening of the film involves a montage of crowds of people rushing and tearing through their turbulent day. The world is constantly on the move, yet Aron decides on abandoning this for the placidity and seclusion of the Utah mountains. Boyle shows this with a hyperactive split-screen credit sequence which flaunts a surreal tangibility associated with Aron’s thrill-seeking, explorative perspective on life. Therefore the film starts off on a global landscape then zooms in and concentrates on Aron. It’s down in the canyon where he realizes his whole life was leading to that rock. Everybody has a boulder to overcome and for Aron it was getting back to showing more significance to the people who were important in his life. As we get to see his past we realize his actual life is more rockier then the canyon. By becoming stuck in the canyon, his soul begins to unravel and this the wake-up call for him to understand his own situation and the chance to turn it around. Now he has to find freedom and by cutting off his arm he is cutting away from the wrongs and inadequacies he has done in his life. This pivotal sequence is conveyed in a horrific, graphic manner but thats the point of it. Boyle represents it as a painful liberation. He shoots this in a disciplined fashion, showing the blade cut through the skin in sweeping segments. We are given the chance to sink our own imagination in the situation which makes the experience more excruciating. He doesn’t represent it to shock you but to convey the sacrifice Aron has to embark on in order to survive.
James Franco is outstanding as the trapped thrill-seeking adventure Ralston. The reason why there were so many stories of people passing out during the initial screening of the film at the Toronto Festival was because of Franco’s performance alone. Danny Boyle stated in interviews the reason he cast James Franco was because he needed someone who could also show a humorous side to them whilst trapped in such horrendous circumstances; and in 127 Hours this is what we see. This is Franco’s tour-de-force – where he gets to display incredible variety, exhibiting an extensive array of emotions as Aron’s mental and physical well-being disintegrates into chaos. But what Franco does impressively is, during this descent, he retains the wit and charisma of the fun-loving yet irresponsible mountaineer, so by the time you get to the pivotal scene you are so invested in the character; you feel his affliction, you really believe that in order to survive he had to make that horrific choice and undertake such an incredible, yet harrowing act of courage. James Franco is almost certain to receive an Oscar nomination for his portrayal.
It is also important to mention AR Rahman’s music and Glenn Freemantle’s exquisite sound design, both of which infuse the electricity of the film. The pivotal scene is remarkably scored, with each tendon he cuts off associated with a musical screech. Once again music is significant and crucial to Danny Boyle’s story; and the songs he picks such as Never Here Surf Music Again are pitch-perfect, exquisitely placed and in terms of relevance, on the money.
AR Rahman’s Heart-pounding Score:
127 Hours is a gripping, gritty, glorious tale; about a one man’s fight for survival – with a kinetic pace and a powerhouse performance by James Franco. 127 Hours will go down as one of the best films of the year, where Danny Boyle found energy and movement in a character who is stuck in the same place for a long time and can hardly move.
Trailer for 127 Hours: