Review by Jack Foley
DANNY Boyle’s 127 Hours is a traumatic tale of human endurance and survival that gives rise to a euphoric finale. It’s another deeply impressive achievement to add to a CV already littered with them.
Based on a true story, the film examines the headline grabbing ordeal suffered by American mountaineer Aaron Ralston in April 2003, whose lonely expedition in Utah’s Blue John Canyon took an unexpectedly harrowing turn.
When a dislodged half tonne boulder crashes down on him, trapping him by his arm in an isolated ravine, Aaron quickly comes to realise that no one is coming to save him and that he must figure his own way out of the predicament.
With water rapidly running out, food in short supply, no mobile phone and not a single person knowing where he’s gone for the weekend, Aaron spends the next 127 hours trying to survive and free himself. He eventually does so by cutting off his own arm with a blunt knife, before staggering to freedom and being rescued by more travellers.
Boyle’s film, based on a script by regular collaborator Simon Beaufoy and on Ralston’s own book of the experience, is a gruelling and sometimes grisly affair that nevertheless keeps you absolutely gripped throughout.
It features a mesmerising central performance from James Franco, as Ralston, which really does get to trawl the range of emotions. Early on, for instance, we see him as a larger-than-life free spirit, effortlessly taking on the environment and making easy friends, as he turns brief guide.
But this early brash confidence is replaced by a wide range of contradicting emotions, from disbelief, fear, anger, panic, regret and an amazing ability to retain calmness under pressure.
The scenes in which Ralston videotapes a goodbye message to his parents, while reflecting on the folly of his lonely lifestyle, are genuinely poignant and affecting – as Franco wears the look of a man who has come to terms with his ‘fate’ while staring death in the face.
And yet the determination to survive also shines through as well… as he embodies the spirit that enabled Ralston to keep thinking clearly and pool his expertise to do what was needed to survive, however painful.
The notorious scenes in which Ralston severs his own arm are, indeed, hard to watch and extremely grisly but, for once in an era where violence on-screen seems to be escalating , necessary. We feel his pain and understand the lengths he was forced to resort to in order to free himself.
Franco is immense: and his charisma, as much as anything, helps give the film its euphoric ending – something that Boyle was aiming for.
But then Boyle deserves credit, too, for sustaining interest and tension throughout the film’s running time (most of which is spent trapped and confined with Ralston).
Early on, his deft hand and energetic style is underlined by scenes involving Ralston with two fellow travellers (which truly do invigorate), while several flights of fantasy involving Ralston’s troubled mind are well executed and don’t – as feared – take you away from the claustrophobic predicament at hand.
His use of two cinematographers (Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak) also creates a memorable environment – one that captures the beauty of the surrounding Utah environment, as well as its dangers (including its potentially lethal dryness).
Boyle’s use of soundtrack, too, is propulsive, sometimes comic and also inspiring… while Beaufoy’s script also maintains the drama and emotion while occasionally dropping in some subtle moments of humour (often delivered by Franco’s character) that help to alleviate the tension.
127 Hours is therefore another tour-de-force from the Boyle filmmaking juggernaut to rival the likes of Slumdog Millionaire, Sunshine, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. The man can do no wrong…
Running time: 94mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: June 6, 2011
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- James Franco interview
- Danny Boyle interview
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- 127 Hours UK Premiere Gallery