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Friday, November 5, 2010

Thrills, Tension, and Inspiration: All within 127 Hours

127 Hours = 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
Aron: All you have to remember is that everything will be okay.
127 Hours is a fantastically made dramatic thriller about survival and reflection. Based off of a pretty amazing true story about a mountain climber getting stuck in a horrible situation, this film does a great job of taking the viewer through this experience by injecting it with lots of energy, slick photography, a great soundtrack, and a wonderful lead performance from James Franco. The film has its share of thrilling moments, with one particularly hard to watch scene, but it is still well worth it, because the whole film is both gripping and poignant.


Franco stars as Aron Ralston, a former mechanical engineer turned mountain climber, who goes on a trip in Utah to explore some trails and canyons by way of mountain biking and bouldering. During his journey, Aron happens to run across two hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara), whom he helps to find a certain spot in the canyons for some spelunking fun. Soon after this meeting, however, Aron is right back on his personal adventure, only to find danger lurking around the corner.


After shimmying his way down into one particular rock crevice, Aron manages to dislodge a small boulder, causing it to crash down on his arm, pinning him inside of a very isolated canyon. Trapped with limited supplies, Aron is in a lot of trouble. The rest of the film deals with his struggles to find a way out of his predicament. There are also occasional glimpses of Aron’s past, as he reflects on some of the choices he has made to become the person he is. Now Aron is a smart and resourceful guy, not to mention very likable, but he may have to go to some desperate measures if he wants to survive.
[To his camcorder]
Aron: Hey there Aron, is it true that you didn't tell anyone where you were goin'? Oops.

The film was directed by Danny Boyle, fresh off his Oscar win for Slumdog Millionaire, but fortunately he has not slowed down at all. Despite much of the film dealing with Aron being trapped in one location, it is still filmed with the same sort of vibrancy that makes Boyle's other films like 'Slumdog' or Trainspotting so engrossing. I have long admired Boyle's ability to jump around between many different types of films while still being able to put his stamp on them, and I was once again very impressed with the work he has done here.

Boyle also re-teamed with 'Slumdog' screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, to adapt the novel, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, written by the real Aron Rolston as an autobiography recounting the experience. This was actually Boyle's first credit as a writer and I have to believe that he must truly love this story, because the way it all unfolds is superbly handled.


A huge part of this film's success is the cinematography by collaborators Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, who provide plenty of great scenic shots, mixed with a good amount of down and dirty digital photography. This is quite a beautiful film to look at throughout, even as it gets into the nitty gritty of Aron's survival. Editing played a great factor as well, as the film is made up of so many pieces, moving between Aron's situation and his state of mind, all while providing a story that both builds its dramatic tension, while feeling excellent pacing-wise.

The final 'Slumdog' connection I will make has to do with the score of this film by A.R. Rahman, who matches the cinematic adrenaline that Boyle provides through his direction with equally effective blasts of music that punctuate the varying moments of thrills and intensity. I have always been a fan of the soundtracks in Danny Boyle films, and this one was no different.


Of course, the huge key to this film was having an actor who could convey all that was needed to capture this character, and James Franco manages to be absolutely capable of that here. Franco's work for this film was obviously challenging, both physically and emotionally, as he needed to make the audience believe that he was there, stuck in a canyon, stranded away from everyone. Seeing that pain and sadness combined with a glint of humor and drive to survive all functioned to provide a fantastic performance.

Now if there is anything that is wrong with this film, I would have to say its re-watchability may not be as strong as other Boyle films. That is almost a backhanded compliment, because I feel the particular scenes, which come late in the story, are filmed so well and with such a raw intensity that I just don't think I could handle that stress again and again (although I would be willing to listen to a director’s commentary upon the arrival of the Blu-Ray, as I find Boyle to be a pretty fascinating guy when he talks about how he puts his films together). So the film is tough to watch at points, but that being said, the culmination of Aron's experience is nothing short of inspirational.



I expected nothing less from the talent involved (especially from a technical perspective), but this film will go down as one of my favorites of 2010. It is incredibly well made, features a top notch lead performance, has provided me with another awesome soundtrack, and does what any film based on a true story or not should - keeps things cinematically interesting. Both painful and triumphant, and always engaging.
Aron: Do not pass out. Do not pass out.

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