Friday, November 5, 2010

Movie with Abe: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Directed by Danny Boyle
Released November 5, 2010

Despite the implications of the title, this review will remain mostly spoiler-free so that those who do not know the details of the resolution of this story can fully experience the suspense and anxiety of this film’s events. The true story of climber Aron Ralston having his arm pinned by a rock down in a vast canyon where no one knew he was is absolutely fascinating in its own right, and therefore was likely an enormous challenge to bring to the screen in an appropriate and fitting fashion. Yet Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, the Oscar-winning director-writer team behind “Slumdog Millionaire,” have done a masterful job of adapting it into an entertaining, frightening, and ultimately thrilling film.

The most certifiably effective element of “127 Hours” is the casting of its lead character. James Franco has previously been relegated to (occasionally important) supporting roles in films as diverse as “Spider-Man” and “Milk” in addition to having shone in comedic fare like TV’s “Freaks and Geeks” and 2008’s “Pineapple Express.” Now, he has the chance to take on the lead part in a high-profile film and give the performance his all. And that he does, instilling Ralston with an unmatchable zest for life and adventure, perfectly conveying his understanding of the gravity of his situation with a seeming need to stay optimistic and entertain himself and his imagined audience.

Since most of the film takes place with Ralston trapped all by himself, Boyle has to be creative about telling the story to keep it interesting and engaging. A tone-setting introduction finds Ralston interacting with others and displaying his physical abilities and energy, and then his time spent in solitude is sprinkled with recollections of his family and friends, as well as visions of the future. All throughout, however, Ralston remains firmly grounded in the reality of the situation, trying to figure out how to escape while wisely rationing his water and taking a scientific approach to coordinating an exodus. Ralston’s impossibly sunny attitude seems like the stuff of fiction, yet Franco makes it believable and makes Ralston’s incarceration almost bearable.

As with his most recent film, Boyle emphasizes immersion into culture as a way to introduce his film. In this case, his loud, colorful opening is all the more effective considering the loneliness of the situation in which Ralston subsequently finds himself. The use of Free Blood’s “Never Heard Surf Music Again” at the start is a nice way of establishing Ralston’s worldview, and “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman’s alternately fast-paced and contemplative score is a great companion for Ralston as he thinks back over his life in the canyon. The film is a remarkably intense, immersive experience that’s far more entertaining than might seem possible based on the film’s premise. Be forewarned – even those who are not easily squeamish may have trouble watching some of the film’s most disturbing scenes, and the film’s thematic content is rather unsettling as well. Yet, all in all, this is an exceptional, furiously engaging film that magnificently captures one person’s spirit in the midst of his most harrowing experience.


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