Starring James Franco. Directed by Danny Boyle. 94 minutes.
These days, it’s so common to see the words “Based on true events” sprawled across the bottom of a movie poster. And no matter how true that statement really is, we take the bait, hoping for some sort of semi-relatable thrill. But most of the time, we’re just greeted with a harsh dose of barely-there reality. Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle’s latest, 127 Hours, is a rare exception.
Based on the memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 127 Hours recounts Aron Ralston’s struggle to free his right arm from underneath a boulder. In real time, Ralston spent, you got it, 127 hours, barely surviving on a small jug of water, a few freeze-dried meals and, in one low moment, his own urine. In reel time, we only spend 90 minutes with the mountain climber (or rather, James Franco). But that doesn’t make his incredible story any less powerful.
If Boyle is a mad film scientist, then 127 Hours is his Monster. Crafted using the heart and soul of Slumdog and the frantic look and feel of the main body of Trainspotting, it’s a beautiful beast of a movie, both hard to watch – and forget.
127 Hours could have been as dry and lifeless as an abandoned canyon (I mean, technically, you’re just watching a guy stand around for an hour and a half) but under Boyle’s supervision, it’s an awesomely emotional rollercoaster, plunging right into the heart of both Ralston’s physical and psychological pain. Boyle near-synchronizes our heartbeat with Aron’s using brilliantly surrealistic hallucination scenes, sensory camera work, split-screen sequences and way-too-close-for-comfort POV shots. The detail work is so vivid, you almost feel as though you are Aron, which can be a bit too intense at times. Especially if you’re a more squeamish film lover (a few people fainted at the screening I attended).
But just when you think the pain and loneliness might send you over the edge, Boyle (who also co-wrote the screenplay) injects some deliciously delirious humour, like an over-the-top handy-cam scene or a self-consciously sarcastic soundtrack choice. But don’t get blinded by the fun. 127 Hours is more serious than slapstick. Be prepared to want to cover your eyes at least once (spoiler, that really isn’t a spoiler – he ends up cutting his arm off with a dollar store knife!) – and fight off I-just-witnessed-a-genuine-triumph-of-the-human-spirit tears.
Although Boyle’s fierce filmmaking makes Ralston’s story come to new-life, it’s Franco’s fearless performance that really makes it special. Whether he’s chatting up some lost hiker girls (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) or himself, Franco’s loud, yet breezy mannerisms make Aron seem effortlessly charming and fun. In the same breath (sometimes literally), he also makes us think he’s a lost little boy, waiting for someone to swoop in and save him. Just wait for the schizophrenic “talk show” scene. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking.
It’s doubtful Franco or Boyle know what it’s like to be as lonesome as Ralston was during that near-fatal trip (and really, how can anyone?). But they really make you think that they do. And that is something you really can’t fabricate. A-