' Cinema Romantico: 127 Hours

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

127 Hours

So how does one go about filming the true story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who in 2003 in the wilds of the Moab desert in Utah found himself trapped in a thin canyon with his right arm pinned against a boulder and spent 127 hours in the company of only himself while determining the only way to save his life would be to take the dull knife of a multi-tool and saw off his own arm.

Well, one has to cast a talented, multi-faceted, likeable actor who audiences would not mind being trapped with for 90 minutes and who can convincingly play matter-of-factness and exasperation and resolve. The movie accomplishes this by placing James Franco at the wheel. Guy's got game and, it would seem, an Oscar nomination within his grasp. The film would also need a skilled director at the helm, one who can maintain tension and prevent visual tedium. The movie sort of accomplishes this with Danny Boyle. He keeps the proceedings moving forward at a solid clip but often gets in his actor's way by having to show off. Ah, and so it is.


When Ralston set off for a Saturday hike in the middle of nowhere he told no one where he was going. Big mistake. He ran into a couple young free spirits doubling as lovely ladies (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn in the film) with whom he frolics for a bit before moving on for a solo, late afternoon excursion where, suddenly, he finds himself falling into a narrow crevice and, thus, gets his arm trapped behind that boulder. Franco's immediate reaction to this is absurdly priceless. It's not anger. It's mild - key word, mild - disbelief. His facial expression says: "A boulder just wedged by arm against this rock? Seriously? That really just happened?" He is eerily calm. He treats this development not as a disaster but as a setback. He sets out the few supplies he has which includes a multi-tool complete with a miniature, blunt knife. He tries to chip away at the boulder to no avail. He sets up a pulley with climbing rope to try and pry the boulder loose but no chance. He has little food and little water. He rations it but starts to crack. How could you not? He tries to fight it off. "Don't lose it," he says to himself.

Perhaps the movie's best asset is the fact that you know how it ends. You know that arm has to go. The greatest drama is not in the way Ralston comes to this realization, because it would seem he came to this realization fairly early on, but in the way he reaches that terrible point of now or never. But if the movie is also supposed to be about one man confronting his own mortality and misgivings as he faces potential death it would have been nice to, in fact, see Franco confronting his own mortality and misgigvings as he faces potential death rather than unseen filmmakers helping him to see it. The quick flashbacks are fine and on point, though even there a little less spelling out would have gone a long way. One man knocking on heaven's door and now memories are flashing in and out. But Boyle seems too insistent on adding panache.

There is a sequence where Franco has begun to lose it, understandably, and starts speaking into his video camera like a gameshow host and to simply hear this as a lone man in a canyon crevice would have been rather powerful but the soundtrack adds "audience" laughter and music and so forth and undercuts it. Remember the beginning of "There Will Be Blood" when Paul Thomas Anderson just let Daniel Day Lewis act in that well? More of that technique might have made this even more harrowing.

As for the end, the much talked about end, it is, strangely, both as graphic and not as graphic as one would assume, though it is bloody and it is brutal and it is terrifying and, yet, it is what Franco does in the few minutes immediately after his escape that speak the loudest and resonate the most and allows "127 Hours" to overcome any auteur muck ups. Life sucks. But not really.

1 comment:

Castor said...

Looking forward to catch that, I will let you know what I think once I see it in a few days ;)