Film Reviews!: 127 Hours

Danny Boyle has a knack for this thing called “making films.”  He’s one of the few directors who is capable of fully integrating the “crowd-pleasing-epic” and the “critical success”.  And all my jumbled, mixed-up grammar aside, he has an incredible ability to tell a story succinctly, while packing in as much cinematic extravagance as possible.  His work stretches the boundaries of storytelling while managing to not alienate anyone in the audience.  In Boyle’s latest, 127 Hours, the director of Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 28 Days Later, utilizes many of his signature techniques to keep a film that could have potentially been disastrously boring into an absolute masterpiece.

The “based-on-a-true-story” premise that 127 Hours is hinged upon gives rise to a fascinating tale.  A mountain climber, Aron Ralston, tumbles into a crevasse during a routine expedition.  His arm becomes lodged in between a boulder and a canyon wall.  Trapped between a rock and a hard place (1. I couldn’t resist, and 2. That’s actually the name of Ralston’s autobiography) Ralston is forced to ration his food and water supplies and ponder his escape/entire existence over the course of the next five days.  While the story itself is quite captivating, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to cinematic undertakings.  The crux of the adventure takes place in a desert canyon where Ralston basically re-evaluates his life and does everything in his power to break free of his imprisonment while inflicting as little damage upon himself as possible.  While this story makes excellent fodder for a book, where the author can extrapolate and work tangentially on how he felt and where his mind would wander during moments of excruciating pain, desperation, and anxiety, it’s difficult to convey such thematic devices in the world of cinema when your protagonist cannot move a single inch from the spot he’s anchored to.  All this just to say that a lessor director would not have been able to convey half of what Danny Boyle did with this story in this medium.

It’s the inventiveness of storytelling that truly makes this film such a raving success.  Boyle takes chronological economy to an entirely different level with his distribution of time to specific aspects of the story.  He spends the first fifteen minutes of the film setting the stage for the eventual accident that would change Ralston’s life forever, while simultaneously giving us a perfect dose of insight into Ralston’s character as a thrill-seeker and a competent outdoorsman.  The last ten minutes detail Ralston’s escape and his eventual rescue at the hands of a couple from the Netherlands after he rappelled down a 65 foot drop…with one arm.  What we are left with is roughly 70 minutes in the center of the film where Ralston is left to his own devices as he attempts to free himself from his stone prison.

A combination of dream sequences, moments of reminiscence, and actual attempts to free himself make what could be an awfully dull, painful ordeal (for the audience, nyuk,nyuk, nyuk) into a thrilling stretch of cinematic brilliance.  While Boyle makes use of every cinematic technique in the book, from daydreaming, to Ralston narrating for himself, to Ralston even speaking directly to his handycam that he brought along, in a confessional-style, one-man interview, no part of the story ever feels forced, disjointed, or out of place.  Boyle seemlessly interweaves these cinematic elements without losing sight of the tale at hand and without any obvious attempt of indulgence.

The score manages to echo the sentiments of the story well, without becoming a burden.  Boyle’s use of sound brings the stark reality of Ralston’s dire situation across the gap of reality as Ralston continually drifts in and out of consciousness.  Sound, more than music, aids Boyle’s vision, with one of my favorite devices consisting of the scene in which Ralston begins to sever his arm.  While a horrifying experience to watch, regardless, hearing the static, electronic buzz whenever Ralston hit a tendon became an actual device to make the viewer physically recoil.  creating a visceral reaction with a mere sound effect, a good director does make.  Finally, the score of the movie does so much to aid the climax of the film, that by the movie’s denouement the  you realize that you are being coaxed out of the summit of the climax by the score itself.  While the visuals onscreen do plenty to celebrate the ending of this film the way it should be, the musical accompaniment is what seals the package together.

The cinematography also cannot be praised highly enough.  And while certain shots of the desert and its never-ending expanses of desolation stand alone as being breath-takingly captivating, the reason for the thumbs up is the adept utilization of the cinematography itself, not necessarily the shots that are accomplished.  Being trapped with literally no room to spare, Boyle had his work cut out for him framing a film in which all the action was to take place either in a 1 foot by 1 foot square, or in the mind of the protagonist.  But no part of 127 Hours feels stereotypical as the average memory play generally does.  To further reinforce the point, the beauty behind this offering is Boyle’s ingenuity in telling a tale, and the cinematography most notably echoes this, utilizing multiple flashbacks, differing angles and cinematic techniques, and even different cameras, as Ralston turns to his personal handycam whenever he looks to document his situation.  It’s the cycling-through of techniques, the shifting of the physical lens through which the audience views the story, that keeps the dynamism of the film alive.

And finally, James Franco must be lauded for a performance that forces the viewer to invest.  Franco does an incredible job of crafting a character who is both fully competent and fully vulnerable all at the same time.  This simple dichotomy becomes crucial to Boyle’s world-building as the audience needs to feel Ralston’s competency in order to not simply lose all hope, while at the same time feeling the exasperated desperation of the character’s seemingly inevitable demise.  Franco is able to beautifully balance these two extremes while still creating a character that is both charismatic and a delight to watch onscreen.  As with Boyle, a lessor actor would have naively rested on merely his instincts and begot a more boring alternative.

With what appears to be a largely anti-cinematic story, Danny Boyle has constructed one of the best movies of the year.  By simply entertaining multiple theatrical and cinematic constructs and from focusing on original storytelling techniques, a simple story of a trapped mountain climber manages to become an inspirational epic about perseverance and the human will.

Performance/Directing: 88/100

Score/Soundtrack: 84/100

Script: 85/100

Cinematography: 88/100

Overall: 92/100


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