11/19/10

Review: 127 Hours (2010)


Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle's 127 Hours is an exuberant one-man horror show, featuring a don't-miss starring performance from veteran James Franco (Milk, Pineapple Express) as a gung ho biker/hiker, Aron Ralston, who makes a very big mistake when he neglects to make his whereabouts known to anyone during a Utah hike which goes from sunny and bright to devastating. The views of the Utah landscapes are truly striking, priceless.

I haven't read Ralston's memoir (Between a Rock and a Hard Place) upon which this movie is based, though I do remember the media coverage of it at the time. What I knew, or what I thought I knew from that didn't prepare me for the totality of the film's dramatic story, however. Using a main narrative, along with video snippets reportedly based on Ralston's own video diary of his trip, and flashbacks, hallucinations and dreams, the film never gets boring, but is often harrowing.

James Franco as Ralston is so much the focus of the film that I was almost surprised, reviewing the cast list, to see so many names, but there is notable support from Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara as two somewhat-similar daredevils Ralston meets along the way and from Treat Williams as Ralston's father.

The music by A.R. Rahman and others captures a wild rhythm of the outdoor hotshot, bridges emotional gaps, and works both with and in counterpoint to the film's events to become nearly another character during all that time we are alone with Franco's Ralston.

There have been reports of people fainting during this film, and I don't doubt them. I myself was surprised at how squeamish I felt during certain points of the film, obviously, during the first moments Ralston realizes he's trapped, to when he finally executes the daring and desperate plan which saves his life.

One rub here is that most anybody who has heard any synopsis of the plot, which is hard to avoid, knows that these key moments are coming. That doesn't spoil the story, or how it's depicted, but it does put the crowd in competition with the storytellers a bit. In terms of suspense or surprise, it's an interesting audience dance.

Are we there for the horrifying elements, which are indeed horrific? Is this just a tale for pain voyeurs? Is that the movie's reason for being? Maybe all of these things are true to some extent, but the film's journey is rather rich and deep, allaying, justifying, or maybe simply enfolding those issues. Locked into a regular horror gimmick, it embraces it, delivers on it and surpasses it, dazzlingly.

Because at its heart, and in its assured execution, it's a very simple story. Like more films from just this year than I'd care to mention here, it's a trippy, bone-rattling stare at mortality. But it's one of the better and more involving ones.

127 Hours is big, brassy, exploitative and realistic at the same time. It felt a bit truncated to me, given its rhythm and narrative strategy, but maybe test audiences couldn't sit still a second longer. A few times, it seems to stretch. Despite minor reservations, it's a story very much worth spending time on, told just this way. And yes, James Franco is a movie star.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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