Director: Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle is an amazingly visual and kinetic director. He fills his films with colourful images that sear themselves upon the mind, refusing to budge. From the grim glee of Trainspotting to the intoxicating colours of Slumdog Millionaire, his films may vary in quality but are rarely dull, always moving and distracting the eye. Presumably, then, he decided to challenge himself after winning his Oscar by making a film that requires its protagonist to stay in one place for most of its runtime.
127 Hours is based on Aron Ralston’s memoir ‘Between A Rock And A Hard Place’. In 2003, Ralston’s arm became trapped under fallen rocks whilst climbing in caves in Utah. His ordeal, culminating in an unfortunate act of DIY surgery, is prime material for any young actor hungry for a challenge. James Franco (a.k.a. the less-hammy-yet-more-annoying Green Goblin) is just such an actor. The promise of good performances was clear, and he seizes the opportunity to deliver a great one with both hands (well, one free hand). He captures the right mix of arrogance, derring-do and fear that defined Rolston’s sojourn in the caves. Though not a one-man show (Clémence Poesy, Kate Mara et al turn up to flesh out Aron’s backstory), Franco holds the screen for the whole film with his terrific performance.
As impressive as Franco is, there are problems. Given the grim and bloody nature of this tale, it would have been very easy for it to lapse into maudlin storytelling and a depressing tone. Depression is not an option for Boyle, and the film boasts a surprisingly upbeat tone throughout. However, Boyle’s exuberant style actually take the film to the opposite extreme. At just 93 minutes, 127 Hours feels rushed. Right from the start, as we watch Rolston prepare for his excursion, we know that this is going to be a very upfront and exciting ride, but surely you have to stop and take a breather at some point, especially when the main character is reduced to staying in one spot and drinking his own urine. Still, plenty of moments stick in the mind, including a bizarre Scooby-Doo cameo and the eventual surgery, which is necessarily nasty, but not excessively so. 127 Hours is a celebration of the will to survive, and a breathless one at that. Aron Ralston paid the ultimate price for trying to live life to the full. Though not fatal this time, perhaps Boyle ought to consider taking a leaf out of Rolston’s book and slow down a little, too.