Wednesday, January 12, 2011

127 Hours? I Only Need 10 Minutes

In the past year I have watched on screen piranhas devouring male genitals, robogeshias burning the flesh off of a man’s face with acid breast milk, and a man named Machete use an intestine like it was a bungee rope. Yet none of those moments evoked a reaction out of me the way a scant ten minute scene in 127 Hours did.

Directed by Danny Boyle, 127 Hours is based on the true life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountain climber who found himself trapped for 127 hours in a near life-ending predicament. Known for frequently going out canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah, Ralston would often take off in the great outdoors without telling anyone where he was going. One day, after spending time with two hikers he meets along the way, Kristi (Kate Mara), and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), Ralston’s solo journey takes a turn for the worst when his arm becomes trapped under a fallen boulder. Trapped for over five days, Ralston’s will to live is what keeps him going. Ralston is forced to use all of his survival instincts in order to get himself out of the canyon and find his way to safety.

If you have already heard the story of Aron Ralston, read his book, or reard any reviews of the film then you know the lengths he must go to in order to free himself from the boulder. While the scene is not that long in regards to the films overall running time; the intensity of the scene makes it feel like an eternity. While Danny Boyle never lets the film get as graphic as your mind makes the moment out to be, he by no means attempt to shy away from the details either. Boyle’s sharp camera angles and editing bring every severed nerve to life on screen. It has been a long time since I squirmed so much in my seat, in such a short span of time, during a film.

As Ralston, James Franco does a terrific job of selling the agony and pain his character is going through in that scene. Franco is given the tough job of making the audience care about Ralston completely in the span of time before the crucial moment occurs. Alternately, Aron Ralston could have been portrayed as an arrogant daredevil who was destined to have such an encounter. Yet Franco shows that Ralston is merely a kind hearted soul who loved the outdoors as much as he loved his family. Most importantly, Ralston loved life and was willing to do anything to continue living for as long as he can.

Along with Franco’s great performance, Danny Boyle really deserves praise for making 127 Hours work as well as it does. Unlike Cast Away, to which this film is frequently and unjustly compared, 127 Hours uses the simplest techniques to keep its man alone in nature story moving at a brisk pace. Whether it is the crane shots that emphasize the gravity of Ralston’s circumstance, the split screen sequences, or the way Boyle showcases Ralston’s bouts of delirium through flashbacks and visions, there is never a moment when the film feels long and/or plodding. Boyle manages to make a rather engrossing film out a situation where the majority of the film takes place in one small and confined setting. While he may not get the same level of love that the Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, or Darren Aronofsky do amongst the online community, Boyle continues to showcase why he is one of the best directors working today.

It is easy to dismiss 127 Hours as another Cast Away but that would be foolish. 127 Hours is a film that rises above its simple premise and offers up a film experience that is both fascinating and long lasting.


  1. Looks like we agree on this film, Boyle and Franco FTW. I mean, Franco's performance was really great and Boyle showed his usual awesomness.

  2. The actual cutting of the arm took 4 hours but the scene is only a few minutes. The fact that it feels like eternity certainly isn't a problem because, well... it must have felt like an eternity for Ralston himself.

  3. A very quick film that shows a guy who was stuck in a cave for 5 days, in about 95 minutes. And doesn't let up for a minute.

  4. @5plitreel - Boyle continues to impress me as a director. Even in his lesser works (e.g. Strumpet, The Beach, etc.) there is always something interesting that he brings to the table.

    @Castor - I cannot even imagine the true level of pain Ralston went through or how he lasted that long. I think that is what makes the scene in the film even more uncomfortable. It is one thing if it was a fictional story, but the fact that these are real events makes the scene, although brief, extra tough to watch.

    @CMrok93 - It is amazing how fast the film flies by. I went in thinking that it was going to be a slower paced film but was pleasantly surprised.

  5. Such a fantastic movie. And I loved how it wasn't just a movie about a guy losing his arm, it was a movie about a man rediscovering a reason to live.

    "This rock has been waiting for me my whole life."

  6. @Marshall - The arm is almost secondary in the film. I love how it looked back at both the high points and regretful moments of Ralston's life.


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