Film Review: 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle)


Last Friday night, my friend Jeff and I went down to the Plano Angelika and saw Danny Boyle’s new film, 127 Hours

I have to admit that I was a little bit uneasy about seeing this film.  First off, it’s a movie based on the true story about a mountain climber who spent 5 days trapped in a narrow canyon.  I am intensely claustrophobic, to the extent that I’ve had panic attacks just from finding myself trapped in a crowded grocery store aisle.  (Seriously, why does everyone in the world have to go shopping for La Choy Sweet and Sour sauce at the same time I do?)   Secondly, the trapped climber eventually escaped by using a dull knife to saw off his right arm.  I mean, ewwwwww! 

But I knew I had to see the film for three reasons.  Number one, it stars James Franco who I’m kinda in love with.  Number two, Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors.  And, finally, 127 Hours is probably going to be nominated for best picture.  So, I worked up my courage and I tried not to think about the various news reports about audience members passing out while watching the film, and I went to the movie.  And I’m glad I did because 127 Hours is one of the best films that I’ve seen in quite some time.

James Franco plays Aron Ralston, a cocky but likable guy who decides to spend the weekend hiking across some place called Blue John Canyon.  (Sorry, I’m not really an outdoorsey type of girl.)  He tells no one of his plans and the only people who know he’s even at the canyon are two girls that he meets while there.  The girls have gotten lost in the canyon and they accept Aron’s help in finding whatever grand archeological thing it is that they’re looking for.  (See previous apology.) 

I have to be honest here.  As I watched these two girls go off with a perfect stranger, a part of me wanted to be all like, “Oh, I would never do something as stupid as go off with some stranger I met out in the middle of nowhere.”  But, then again, this isn’t just some stranger.  This is James Franco.  So, I’ll refrain from passing judgment.  I just hope that the girls had their pepper spray with them.

(The two girls, by the way, are played by Kata Mara and Amber Tamblyn.  I loved Joan of Arcadia.  Can you believe they cancelled it for Ghost Whisperer?  Not cool, CBS.)

Anyway, after frolicking in an underground pool, Aron and the girls part company.  They invite him to come to a party the next night.  They tell him to just look for a big, inflatable Scooby Doo.  Aron agrees, walks off, and promptly finds himself trapped in a canyon when a boulder falls on top of him and pins his right arm against the canyon wall.  As quickly as that, Aron goes from being  a carefree adventurer to literally being a prisoner, isolated and alone.  As Franco screams for help, Boyle pulls the camera upward from Aron until eventually he’s a barely noticeable speck surrounded by a barren (and otherwise unpopulated) desert.  It’s a moment that you know is coming but it’s still shocking and devastating because it stands in such stark contrast to the film’s first 20 minutes when both Boyle and Franco filled each scene with a sense of constant motion.  Suddenly, everything has stopped and we’re as trapped as Aron.

The rest of the film is pretty much a one-man show.  We watch as Aron spends the next five days fighting to just survive.  He tries to chip away at the rock with a knife (yes, that knife).  He talks to his camera, keeping a diary and leaving messages for his family.  He fights off hungry ants and tries to conserve his water.  He even manages to invent a pretty neat little pulley system to try to move the rock.  Finally, he starts to hallucinate, seeing everything from his family disdainfully watching his predicament to a gigantic inflatable Scooby Doo stalking him in the canyon.  And finally, of course, he starts to cut off his arm.

He also finds some time to think about the life he led up to the moment he found himself trapped underneath the rock.  This is where Boyle really shines because, in the hands of most directors, these scenes probably would have been very maudlin and heavy-handed.  However, Boyle presents these scenes in an almost impressionistic style.  We see hints of the life that Aron has led but Boyle never comes out and blatantly says that, up until this point, Aron never been willing to truly connect with others.  We sees scenes of Aron’s ex-girlfriend breaking up with him but we’re never specifically told what led to her leaving him.  And we don’t need to be.  Boyle presents us with the evidence and trusts us to draw the correct conclusion.

I am very proud to say that I watched the entire film without once having a panic attack though I did start to feel a little bit light-headed when Aron really started to get into sawing off his arm.  At this point, I did end up burying my head in Jeff’s shoulder and watching the scene out of the corner of my eye.  At the same time, it’s an oddly exhilarating sequence because we know that the only way Aron will survive is by cutting off his arm and, as a result of Franco’s performance, we really do want Aron to survive.

In retrospect, 127 Hours really is the ultimate guy film in that the film basically celebrates a guy who gets stranded in the desert for five days yet manages to survive without ever once having to ask for directions.  However, as a result of the whole experience, he comes to realize he should have been nicer to his ex-girlfriend which means that chicks like me can enjoy the movie as well.  My main concern is that the film is such a total guy flick that we might see a sudden epidemic of men amputating their limbs in order to show that they can handle it as well as James Franco did.  As we left the theater, I assured Jeff that he didn’t have to chop off his hand just to impress me.  Hopefully, he listened.

James Franco is generating a lot of Oscar buzz for his performance here and he should be.  Franco is one of those performers who is so pretty that it’s easy to forget that he’s actually a pretty good actor.  I thought he deserved a nomination for his performance in Milk.  He deserves the Oscar for his performance here.

Along with a best actor nod for Franco, it seems likely that 127 Hours will also pick up nominations for best picture and best director.  Interestingly enough, Boyle will probably find himself competing with the man he beat two years ago, David Fincher (previously nominated for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and a probable nominee this year for The Social Network.)  This is somehow appropriate as Danny Boyle has consistently proved himself to be the director that David Fincher is supposed to be and, by being a massively hyped film that lives up to all the praise, 127 Hours is the anti-Social Network.  While The Social Network uses a “true” story as an excuse to judge and ridicule, 127 Hours uses its true story to celebrate humanity, flaws and all.  Whereas Fincher seems to only celebrate film, Boyle celebrates life.

127 Hours.

See it.

9 responses to “Film Review: 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle)

  1. I still deciding whether I’ll see this in the theaters now or wait til next year when dvd screeners go out.

    I like Danny Boyle, but I’ve never been enamored with his style. I know this will sound somewhat weird and probably controversial, but for an auteur I always thought he played it too safe at times when audacity was what was needed. Which is why his films have never been too polarizing.

    I do think he’s a step ahead of Fincher, but still way behind Aronofsky.

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    • I think there is some merit to your argument concerning Boyle — often times, he uses flashy editing and a pounding soundtrack to keep you from noticing that his sensibility is somewhat old-fashioned. 127 Hours really is an old-fashioned film in that it celebrates the human spirit and it does so without the slightest bit of cynicism. I usually hate those type of films but 127 Hours also felt sincere to me, which is why I loved it whereas a film like Secretariat left me cold.

      For me, a lot of it has to do with the fact that Boyle’s film vision is extremely Catholic and my own background is extremely Catholic. (I know you have a similar background though I don’t know how extreme. I wanted to be a nun when I was little and before I understood what that actually meant and what I’d be *ahem* giving up as a result.) As a result, I tend to respond automatically to a lot of Boyle’s themes, especially the idea of the “outsider” or “oppressed’ protaganist who essentially is redeemed through terrible suffering and sacrifice. In 127 minutes especially, it’s hard to watch the film and not compare the main character’s story to some of the entries from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. (Just saying…)

      So, anyway, I like Boyle even though we all knew that Franco would survive not becasue the film was a true story but because Boyle was directing it and Boyle almost always gives his heroes a happy ending.

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      • I still have 127 Hours on my watch-list, but I think like you’re reaction to Social Network I’m waiting for the gushing from many in and out of the industry to die down a bit before I watch it.

        Funny thing is that the one film where I thought Boyle was at his most maverick best was 28 Days Later. I know as a zombie fan I didn’t like the whole running bit, but I still saw someone who took so many different styles and decided he’ll use anything and everything to make his film stand-out.

        I think if there’s a director that may suffer because of 127 Hours it will be Aronosky. His Black Swan already becoming the polarizing film of the year with camps either on it being the best film of the year hand’s down to another camp calling it one of the worst.

        I think I may watch 127 Hours after I see Part 1 of the Deathly Hallows. 🙂

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          • lol. We all have our little secrets. 🙂

            Mine is that yes, I am a Harry Potter fan and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. I’m not saying I like the movies strictly as camp or that there’s any other ulterior motives. For the most part, I sincerely enjoy them. I don’t quite know how to explain it, either. lol.

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