Star rating – 9/10
Director Danny Boyle is a Hollywood darling after the smash hit sensation ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, so it must have been tricky for him to decide which film project to work on next, knowing as he must have that the world would be eagerly waiting and expecting another masterpiece. And ‘127 Hours’, a tale of extreme human endurance, could not be further away from the hustle and bustle of a non-stop city tale set in Mumbai.
It is based on the true story of adrenaline junkie/thrill seeker/loner Aron Ralston, who went out for an adventure in the Blue John Canyon in Utah in 2003, and found himself trapped down a ravine with his right arm pinned down by an immovable boulder after an unexpected fall. Aron is depicted as a supremely confident, arrogant and self centred individual. Before he leaves home for his fateful trip, we see him not returning calls from his mother or sister – just letting them go to answer phone. He does not tell his workmate where he is going either, preferring not to engage in social chit chat. In fact he doesn’t tell anyone where he is going – a mistake that very nearly proves fatal.
James Franco plays the intrepid explorer Ralston, and gives what will surely become a career defining performance, brilliant as it is in showing the physical and psychological journey that our hero is forced to undertake. Franco is on screen for nearly every frame of the 94 minutes running time, and is totally believable as he portrays Ralston going through extremes of physical and mental torture that it is too painful for a normal human being even to fully contemplate. It is a stunning performance.
There is a slightly nervous wait for the accident to happen, as the plot is no secret. And when it does happen, from there on in this film is all about endurance, determination, and regrets. The title refers to the hours Ralston spends trapped before he decides to cut off his right arm with a rather blunt penknife, rather than die without food or water, alone in the deserted beauty spot. And the infamous arm cutting scene, when it comes, is very gruesome – no doubt about it – how could it be otherwise. But this is also a story of relationships, and how we all need them to survive, even incredibly pig headed and arrogant people like Ralston. He uses the time whilst he is trapped in the canyon to recall the people he loves and has loved, and uses his camcorder to record messages to them – mainly of apology at his selfish and inconsiderate behaviour to them.
It is a technically brilliant piece of film making, with full use of tricks such as split screen, flashbacks, dream-like hallucinations, and inside shots of his water bottle and fluid tube, as he focuses on how much water he has left and how long he can survive there for. The score is superb, with white noise used to great effect at particularly hairy moments. The film leave you with an incredible sense of awe at Ralston’s determination, as well as the more flawed sides to his pre accident character (we can only hope he took away some life lessons from the experience, although the film doesn’t say either way). So Danny Boyle triumphs once again, and remember, always pick up the phone when your mother calls, and always tell someone where you are headed on an extreme adventure...