127 Hours

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/18/10 04:44:08

"An adventurous man who won't be pinned down."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

There is not a whole heck of a lot to "127 Hours", story-wise: Guy goes climbing on his own, gets pinned by a falling boulder, and has to figure out a way to get out of a thoroughly intractable situation. Filmmakers look at a story like that and figure getting ninety minutes of movie from it is either going to be all but impossible or a terrific challenge. Considering that Danny Boyle is one of those directors whose mission with each new picture seems to be pushing himself to do something he hasn't tried yet, it's not surprising that he both sees it as a challenge and does a fine job of rising to it.

Though Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a friendly and charming guy, he's too jittery and on-the-go to really set down roots or figure others into his plans. So, with the weekend off from his job at a sporting goods store, he heads into Utah's Canyonlands National park. He meets up with Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), a pair of cute hikers, but not long after showing them a cool swimming hole, and having them invite him to a party the next night, they split. He's miles away from anyone else at 3pm on Saturday when the boulder drops, pinning his right arm and trapping him in a narrow crevice, with provisions for maybe a couple of days.

127 Hours isn't really a movie about suspense; although a fair amount of people in the audience likely won't know what happens at the end of those 5+ days (though looking at the cover of the source material may tip them off). And while I've joked about wondering what this movie would be like had Werner Herzog been in the director's chair, it's not primarily a film about man versus nature. That conflict - the natural world's supreme indifference to whether any of its creatures (including human beings) live or die - is here just the catalyst for forcing Aron to think about the way he's been living his life.

Not that Boyle and company are looking to stack the deck and make the film a moralistic judgment on Aron's lifestyle; the opening reels are downright joyous. Though Aron is sometimes sloppy in his actions and pushes some things off, we're able to share in his love of pushing himself physically and finding delight in the wide-open landscape around him. Boyle and editor Jon Harris keep this part of the movie jumping, using split-screens and odd cuts to imply even more motion and emphasize how it's just him and nature. Right up until the moment that the boulder lands on his arm, it's fun, and we see Aron as an eccentric, but never a bad person.

James Franco is perfect for that. Even though he spends the bulk of the movie stuck in one place, Aron's still a very physical role. He spends the first act in nearly constant, smooth motion, popping immediately back up when he wipes out on his mountain bike, turning his head this way and that when he pauses to talk to the girls. When pinned, his body language is industrious; we're always aware that his mind is working with an admirable resolution. When he speaks, whether to himself or his video camera (which often amounts to the same thing), there's a gregarious good humor and a desperation that's almost reluctant, telling us that Aron's a solution-oriented guy who doesn't have it in his nature to give up, but also realistic enough to know that the situation looks bad.

Co-writer/director/producer Boyle could, perhaps, have trusted Franco to have carried the movie a little more. The outdoor scenes, especially those in the crevice, are generally nothing short of fantastic, not just in terms of shooting pretty scenery but in how the handheld work around the pinned Aron has a distinct look but blends easily with the rest of the picture (cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle may have been more restricted than Eduard Grau was shooting Buried). As the film goes on, though, Boyle piles it on a bit thick - there may be too many flashbacks and fantasies, making us lose a little perspective on how five days can be a long time to be this alone. Some of the sequences are also odd enough that the moment things get intense and graphic isn't quite as shocking as it could be. A line at the end about a "premonition" momentarily confused me - which bits were supposed to be premonitions versus flashbacks?

I can't really blame Boyle and co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy too much - the rapid, restless opening is one of the movie's biggest strengths, and the rest remaining busy is being true to the main character and his mindset. As much as the experience changes Aron, the movie doesn't repudiate his desire for excitement and adventure, and that's the emotion that comes through what could have been a much more somber piece.

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