There’s a pivotal scene in Danny Boyals’ “127 Hours” when our protagonist Aron Ralston (James Franco) gets his arm pinned between a rock and is unable to move it. Up until this point Ralston has been in complete control. He has been mountain biking and hiking on rocks like it’s no big deal but now he has lost control. He doesn’t scream or yell for help at first. He just sits there silently in shock and disbelief. Un aware of the hard times ahead of him.
Imagine being trapped in a narrow canyon for five days, with little food and water. That’s the hell that the real life Aron Ralston had to go through in April 2003. By now you’ve probably heard something about it. In particular the part where he had to cut off the wedged arm with a dull knife in order to survive.
This is an inspiring story but one has to think how it could be made into a full-length movie and be a great one at that. But somehow, with an excellent cast and crew Boyal has pulled it off. Like in his other movies, like the good but overrated “Slumdog Millionaire” and before that the wonderful apocalyptic horror “28 Days Later” Boyal is able to make a sleek and fast paced movie but at the same time a beautifully shot one, conveying a peaceful tone. “127 Hours” may be one of the most thrilling and graceful adventure/dramas to come out this year. There are no car chases, gunfights or special effects. Just a man, a canyon and his thoughts. And the fact that it’s true makes it even better. Other wise it could be looked at as gimmick cinema.
Though none of this would be possible without a strong performance and James Franco nails it. A problem I have always had with Franco in past movies like all three “Spider Man” films he has always felt so reserved and limited. In “127 Hours” he feels so natural and makes Aron likable and fun as well as complex. And it’s a true testament to his skill considering it’s him on screen for most of the movie.
Boyal wastes no time to get us into the action. In the opening scene, we see that Aron is restless and always on the move. He wakes up before the sun comes up and ignores the calls he is getting. Once he gets there, we see one beautifully shot and exhilarating scene after another. Like Aron riding his mountain bike off trail on the orange canyon rocks of Blue John Canyon in Utah. Then he runs into two cute girls who are lost and turns on the charm (sort of) and leads them to an underground pool. This first half of the movie is very upbeat and energetic. It sort of makes you want to get up and do more hiking.
However, when the accident does happen the fun and energetic tone switches to shear eeriness and terror. But the film by no means drags. Boyal keeps the camera up close to Arons body. Showing him at all different angles, putting the camera at the point of view of the water he has little of. You can feel every emotion he feels, like him daydreaming about having an ice-cold beverage or trying to soak up the little bit of sunlight and warmth that shines through the canyon for fifteen minutes a day.
As the days go on Aron gets delusional, imagining his friends and family are down in the cave with him or imagining a gig inflatable Scooby Doo. He uses a video camera as a sort of confessional, which provides some great dialogue. We find out that he is selfish and tends to push people away. He didn’t even tell anyone where he was going.
When the arm-cutting scene does come you’re expecting it but you don’t expect how it is going to look and Boyal shows every painful detail. Aron has to dig around and pull for a long time. It made for a very graphic and intense climax.
If there’s any point that “127 Hours” puts across, it’s that everyone needs help once in a while, no matter what you do or how smart you are. Aron thought he was this expert out doors man but at the end, he shouts, “I need help!” something I’m sure he’s rarely said.