Friday, February 11, 2011

127 Hours

Most people can relate to being metaphorically stuck between a rock and a hard place, but when Aron Ralston used the idiom as the title of his memoir, his meaning was brutally literal. The story of this experienced, gung-ho climber who famously hacked off his own arm to escape from being pinned by a boulder, is brought to glorious, and yes, relatively gory life by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and his remarkable leading man James Franco (Spiderman, Milk).

Knowing Ralston’s fate doesn’t really constitute a spoiler; on the contrary, Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionare) seem to prefer it that way. In fact they have almost too much fun teasing their audience’s expectations: hence the opening triptychs depicting masses of teeming humanity, and the lengthy shots of Ralston filling his water bottle and even grasping around trying to find his Swiss Army knife. Though bordering on laborious, this set up is done with Boyle’s trademark kineticism and a thumping soundtrack, both techniques that are subsequently and powerfully juxtaposed once Ralston becomes silently, claustrophobically trapped.

Much as Boyle has lots of cinematic tricks up his sleeve, it would all be for naught if Franco failed to hold our attention in what is essentially a one-man show. But captivate he most certainly does in an electric, unbelievably visceral performance as a man forced to face his own hubris, and then to do the unthinkable. This climatic scene really isn’t as grisly as you’d expect, because Boyle and Beaufoy have engineered the film such that by that stage you find yourself needing him to cut it off. It’s a striking conceit, and one made further compelling by Franco’s jaw-dropping abilities (the scene was evidently shot in one take where they let him just go at the prosthetic arm – he even managed to snap the metal core). However Franco is so transfixing that when Boyle cuts away from him for a few sentimental flashbacks, the film immediately begins to sag.

127 Hours is immersive cinema in the most gut wrenching sense. If it gets a little mawkish, it’s probably because it stays a little too faithful to Ralston’s spiritual journey (he is now a motivational speaker), but considering the guy gave his right arm to live – again, literally – Boyle has crafted a deeply humane and beautifully triumphant tribute to both Ralston’s flawed humanity and his superhuman quest for survival.

Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 10 February 2011

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