I can’t really say there are spoilers because what happens in the film is, by now, well known and a matter of public record. James Franco, also soon to be seen in ‘Howl’, is on somewhat of a roll, here playing real life climber Aron Ralston who, in 2003 got his arm trapped by a boulder in the desert and had to cut it off to save his own life. That’s basically it – that’s all the film is about – nothing else happens. But this isn’t the bore fest that was ‘Buried’ – director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy deliver an impressive character study with the visual flair and energy you’d expect of the ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Sunshine’ director. Franco/Ralston starts off a nice but cocky adventurer, who for reasons known only to him, trecked into the Utah Desert without a mobile phone or telling anyone where he was going, leaving him in mortal peril when he became trapped by the boulder. Within a few days, facing death by dehydration or exposure, he’s forced to resort to drinking his own urine but even that won’t tide him over for very long, and there are no rescuers coming…
Franco delivers an acting masterclass in showing what happened next – the delirium, the desperation, the anger, despair, acceptance of his eventual fate all framed by the messages he left for his friends and family, before he decided at the very last moment to cut his own arm off as the only means of survival.
Where ‘Buried’ completely avoided any believable character development, ’127 Hours’ suggests a great deal changed for Ralston during his ordeal. A rescuer with a cocky arrogance and issues about his own independence and family relationships, Boyle’s film suggests he was driven to do the unthinkable (and it is a barely watchable sequence) by his acceptance whilst essentially in solitary confinement that he had a responsibility to his parents and family, and in his delirium he even apparently saw the child he was destined to have in the future. It’s by no means perfect – nothing actually happens after all – you wait the better part of 90 minutes for the inevitable to happen. Ralston isn’t presented initially as a character worth much emotional investment in either – so he gets trapped by his own reckless stupidity – why should I care? It’s to Franco’s credit that you do in any measure.
It works very well as a triumph of the spirit movie, but given that much of it is framed around Ralston’s famed self-shot videos during his ordeal, you’re left wondering what the real ones (which Ralston has refused anyone access to) are like. The style is so also pseudo-documentary (with an entirely predictable MTV flavour thrown in) you aren’t even given much of a chance to emotionally invest in Ralston/Franco, at least until the film arrives at the arm-cutting moment. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Ralston is more interesting after his self-mutilation than before, but Franco clearly oes every trick in the book to make him likeable throughout, and to transform which might otherwise have been a very dull script into an interesting journey.
’127 Hours’ isn’t an all-time-great film by any means, nor is it one of Boyle’s best – it’s far closer in tone to the insubstantial ‘The Beach’ – but it’s a great step forward for Franco and serves as an excellent Sunday night film. Not much more than that though.
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