Aron Ralston is a climber and canyoneer who becomes trapped in a canyon in Utah after a fall while exploring leaves his arm pinned to the wall of the canyon by an immovable boulder. Whilst down there, he tries his best to escape and survive, but as time goes on, his supplies slowly start to run out, as well as his options...
How do you follow up a film which won you 4 Golden Globes, 7 BAFTA's and 8 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture? In the case of Danny Boyle, you follow it up with the true story of a mountaineer who spends 5 days trapped in a canyon in Utah. Odd choice, no? Even at any other time for any other director, it's a weird story to adapt into a major motion picture, but nonetheless here we have 127 Hours. So does it work? Incredibly, yes. It's a story which places a huge emphasis on cinematography, direction and performance and luckily, the film excels itself in all 3 departments.
It's surprising to say that for a film which holds no surprises (everyone must surely know the plot by now given all the media attention it's been given), it actually conjures up some hidden treats. The way the story is told is brilliant and authentic (helped no less from some strong source material and input from Ralston himself), the cinematography switches effortlessly between the grandiose and the intimate, and the performance by James Franco is extraordinarily strong which, for a film with one character for 85% of its run time, is absolutely vital to the success of the film.
James Franco delivers his best performance to date, or at least the best I've seen. He starts off portraying Ralston as "batshit crazy", leaping into a role he's played many times before in various Seth Rogen films. It's once Ralston becomes trapped in the canyon that Franco excels himself. He plays his role to a tee; a man desperate to escape, scared, anxious but also clever and a survivalist. You as the audience go through what Franco as Ralston goes through, it's an engaging and surprisingly relatable experience, it's personal and emotional. In short, it's just brilliant.
No doubt, this is due to the direction of Danny Boyle. He takes on a near-impossible task with this film, filming one man for over an hour in a cramped, claustrophobic environment, and yet Boyle pulls it off just as he has done with every other film he's done in his career so far; 127 Hours is testament to the fact that Danny Boyle has become one of the most reliable directors of the last 15 years. Everything he does just seems to turn to gold, he has the ability to take any genre and create a great film. Trainspotting is one of the best British films of all time, 28 Days Later has become a great horror film, Sunshine is a highly underrated science fiction film, Slumdog Millionaire is critically one of the best films of all time and now 127 Hours can be placed amongst his best works as a truly great drama.
What makes this film stand out amongst his other works is that he splits the screen time evenly between classical, cinematic fixed camera shots and documentary style handheld realism. By creating a document aesthetic rather than a film aesthetic, 127 Hours is able to tell the story in a very real way; you go through what Ralston goes through. The anxiety, the claustrophobia, the dehydration, the hallucinations and ultimately the pain of the amputation. Just a quick note on THAT scene: It looks good, but it's not gory. It's realistic; this is no Hammer Horror buckets-o-blood affair. It's certainly not as bad as it's been hyped up to be, but it's certainly not easy viewing watching a man try and break his own arm before cutting it of with a blunt penknife. It's not easy viewing because it's not meant to be. In fact, after watch his character go through all the hallucinations and failed efforts to free himself, the amputation comes as somewhat of a relief.
Overall, it's another great Danny Boyle film, plain and simple. He may be annoyed that he got beaten to the punch in the 'uncomfortable claustrophobia' genre by Buried, but he need not worry; as good as Buried is, 127 Hours is better. It's engrossing, involving, personal and sad yet redemptive all at the same time. This is perfect fodder for one of those cheesy afternoon movies but no worry, this is film making at its finest. It's amazing how well those 127 hours fit so nicely into a compact 90 minutes.