Danny Boyle is known for fantastic and visually stimulating films. James Franco is an extremely versatile and dynamic actor. Amazing entertainers in their own right, together the two paired up for one of the years most intense and highly praised films. Telling the incredible true story of Aron Ralston was one that was handled with grace and respect…but still very much in your face. Boyle and Franco knocked this out of the park in a way that perfectly complimented Aron Ralston’s all-out and adrenaline-fueled lifestyle.
For those of you still unfamiliar with Aron Ralston, the outdoor extraordinaire survived one hell of an ordeal while hiking Blue John Canyon (near Moab, Utah). By a freak accident his arm became crushed and pinned beneath a dislodged boulder. He endured near starvation/dehydration for 5 days before having to cut himself free…and by free, I mean arm and not a clean quick swipe either. Imagine how impatient you get sitting waiting for a download to complete. If it takes longer than 10 seconds you’d probably freak out right? Well with nothing to do but wait, those 5 days must have seemed to last forever. Now as much effort as it took to make the decision to live, he was still quite a ways from civilization, help, hell even his truck. So for a simple sounding plot, it was anything but…especially when a good chunk of the film was filled with Aron’s personal joys (told through as flashbacks) and pains (told in sobering real time through hallucinations).
James Franco channeled everything he had into Aron Ralston with compelling conviction. From what little I’ve seen/heard of Mr. Ralston, Franco was a perfect choice. Very much a one man show, Franco filled the screen with equal amounts of his charisma and pain allowing the audience in on his journey. It was really a battle of will and as Franco portrayed a real person he gave such an effort that you almost felt you were watching the events unfold live. His acting on screen to the digital camera was as if he was acting right to the audience in such an intimate setting. Quite shocking was Aron’s ordeal and his pain and efforts on screen made the character of Aron Ralson emotionally and chillingly real. Side note, Franco’s performance probably isn’t an Oscar lock but you can bet on a nomination for sure.
Here is where Boyle really excels as he really conducts his films like symphony. His control over cinematography, editing and the like is really second to none. A bit frenetic…a bit? no extremely frenetic, you can be sure Boyle will take advantage of every element on screen but will never know which way it’s coming. The opening of the movie I think is probably representative of how Boyle’s mind works. Quick cuts and multiple views/angles are becoming his trademark. He is very hyper and if you’ve ever seen an interview with him you’ll know just how animated he is in real life. As his films never really follow a traditional or linear progression Boyle’s latest film is just about as frenzied as his others. It’s almost like the camera has ADD and we cut to something different (a flashback , a hallucination, a dream sequence) whenever Boyle gets bored with the story.
Still it could get really boring if we focused solely on Aron (Franco) and watch him chip, grunt, sleep and conserve water for 100 minutes. Ultimately, Boyle’s editing made Aron’s gruesome decision to live even more painful to watch. Further his drifting between what is real and what is a dream probably was what Aron had to contend with after his escape. Though probably played up for the film, all the flashbacks and dream sequences were cut and placed so that it felt very natural and fluid.
From the film’s early opening credits (which those crowds of people didn’t really have anything to do with the film from what I could tell) to the final moments, 127 Hours was filled with far more than just Aron Ralston’s maiming predicament. Really, each sequence aided in the storytelling and each scene transition was a thing of beauty. Taking even the simplest of situations Boyle was able to be creative and innovative filling each frame with amazing visuals. Example you ask? Well y have you ever watched someone drink from a water bottle? Boring huh? Well not in a Danny Boyle film. Possibly taking a cue from David Lynch we see so many views of such banal items and how they impacted the story. I guess he had to since there’s not many places the camera could go between the rock and Franco and Ralston’s personal effects were few. One too many dream sequences for my tastes but as I’ve never been in a situation like Aron’s who am I to put a number on them?
Since I missed this at some of the major film festivals where this apparently rocked the house, I was so glad to have caught 127 Hours in its “Limited Release”. The tale of Aron Ralston isn’t one that everyone knows, but once you learn the story, you’ll never forget it. A fine example of courage and determination this is a film that makes you feel good to be alive. Fantastic in all aspects, 127 Hours is not only a once in a lifetime film (delivered by powerhouse performances both in front of and behind the camera) but one that teaches you to never give up.