Wednesday 5 January 2011

Review: 127 Hours

Year: 2011
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay:Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Starring: James Franco

Synopsis is here

New Year, New Films. Let's go.

Aron Ralston has stated in one of his corporate speeches that he didn't lose his mind, but gained his life back. When I hear something like that, I'm not surprised that director Danny Boyle decided upon this story. Much like the Boyle's infamous Trainspotting, or award winning Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours is about choosing life. Boyle's strongest protagonists are the ones who dictate their own lives. They have (or gain) a large amount of control in their own hands, even if one of those hands is stuck under a large boulder. 127 Hours worked for me because I wa following someone who believes he has such control even when nature itself tries to say he hasn't.

Now in this film, Aron Ralston (Franco)  is not a hero, in fact through the many flashbacks we get throughout the film we learn he's a little selfish and a bit of a dumbass (going rock climbing telling no one where he was going?). However, with this said, as the story pushes forward, Ralston displays traits that have been sorely missing from a few modern fictional cinema heroes. Ralston is charismatic, knowledgeable and industrious. When his predicament takes place, he also becomes analytical, as opposed to some of the recent passive protagonists (see something like Burton's Alice in wonderland or Tron: Legacy). Franco's Ralston seems to have a mind that isn't relying on the screenplay to tell him otherwise. Credit must go to Franco, as he brings his A game to the proceedings. Cocky, delusional, meditative and when the time comes forceful, like the film itself Franco's performance is one that lives in the moment and I felt I was with him for so much of the film.

Also with him is the vibrant digital cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle who not only captures the beauty of the scenery but the immediacy and isolation of the situation. The camera gets in close with Franco and like Buried or The Descent if your not good with enclosed spaces you may be best to avoid this movie. In fact I think it is this element which probably helped tipped some people over the edge in some of the incidents that took place in the early screenings. Mantle's shot's remind us that Ralston cannot turn away from this situation was why should we?

Boyle finishing off quite a creative decade of his career, directs this like a sugar rush, the thumping music and hallucinations (reminiscent of Trainspotting) help keeps the tension going at the best of times. At times I found the MTV editing of the piece more than a little distracting. With visual moments that don't say much other than "hey we can do this". There's also something I found a little "off" with the films first half, which puts together the situation well enough but lacks the oomph of the films exhilarating last act. But what a last act. The films climax in which Ralston does the deed involving his arm was not as brutal as one had thought but is a scene that stuck me with an unbelievable amount of positivity once the "moment" ends. It's moments like this that Boyle does best, whether it's a skag addict going cold turkey or a slumdog jumping into a a vast of human feces, Boyle manages to capture not only the character "choosing life" and taking control of their situation but also that elevated rush and appreciation one can get by watching someone beating extraordinary odds.

So 2011 starts not with a whimper but a bang as 127 Hours reminds us that sometimes fact is not stranger but stronger than fiction and that the courageous doesn't have to be in our visual fantasies but within those who are willing to find it in themselves.