127 Hours (2010)
Starring: James Franco
Written and Directed By: Danny Boyle
It's a rare Hollywood movie that will (1) only feature one main character and (2) manage to make that one main character interesting enough to sustain viewer interest for the entire two hour running time.
The reason 127 Hours works so well is thanks to the partnership of actor and director: James Franco and Danny Boyle.
Hot off last year's Oscar win for Best Director (Slumdog Millionaire), Boyle looks at the true story of Aron Ralston (Franco) and his (mis)adventure in the summer of 2003. Backpacking alone across an isolated canyon in Utah, Ralston makes the near-fatal error of jumping across a boulder wedged in between the canyon's crevice. As Ralston falls, so does the boulder, pinning his right hand between the boulder and the canyon wall.
The film has been much-talked about since its debut on the film festival circuit in the past few months. The main reason for all the talk? The now infamous arm-cutting scene (complete with broken bones and bloody tendons). Although that scene is definitely not for the squeamish, the film is so much more than a violent act of desperation. It is, essentially, an ode to survival and the endurance of the human spirit.
Like all of Boyle's films, the visuals are compelling. All the oranges, yellows and blues practically make you feel as though you are right there with Ralston, in the light and shadow of Utah's canyons. However, even more interesting than the aesthetics, is how Boyle chose to structure the story of Ralston's lonely hours trapped in the canyon. Boyle utilizes the technology Ralston carried with him (he takes pictures of his mangled hand and videotapes a running commentary of each day of his misfortune), which allows the viewer to actually hear Ralston voice his misery and fading optimism. His dehydration and desperation result in interesting flashbacks, as well as hallucinations in which Ralston imagines his loved ones are with him in the canyon. This is arguably one of Boyle's greatest and most challenging films.
James Franco is one of the most interesting young actors to come out of Hollywood in years. He has moved well past his earlier career days in the cheesy Spider-Man films and has since built a solid resume of small indie films and challenging roles. Franco makes Ralston a charming and surprisingly sensitive anti-hero. His seemingly selfish behaviour in not informing family or friends that he'd be taking off alone into dangerous territory is played off as a genuine mistake made by an adventurous spirit. Watching Franco go from optimism to almost complete defeat is wonderful to watch. I'm a sucker for a great performance, especially one that requires the actor to relate to the audience all on their own, just them and the camera. It's through Franco's performance that the audience truly understands his will to survive, his realization of his desire for a child of his own and his genuine repentance over not telling his mother often enough how much he loves her. But, the truly great thing about Franco's performance is that he doesn't actually need to say the words at all. He's able to convey those feelings through body language and facial expressions.
While there is a strong supporting cast (including Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Poesy and Treat Williams), it all comes back to Franco.
In an otherwise mostly weak movie season, 127 Hours is a breath of fresh simply for being an incredibly well-made and well-acted film. For just under two hours, you are guaranteed a tense, gripping an emotional film experience.
FINAL GRADE: A