If you think “127 Hours” is a melancholy movie because it involves self-mutilation to escape death, prepare to be proved wrong. It is NOT a movie about the loss of an arm; it IS a movie about the gaining of perspective and an increased thankfulness for the importance of living.
Director Danny Boyle takes the true story of climber Aron Ralston, forced to cut off his arm when it was trapped under a boulder, and pulls out all the stops to make it an absolutely majestic cinematic tribute to the human spirit. Together with James Franco at the top of his game, “127 Hours” has the power to turn hyperbolic praise into understatement.
The five days Ralston spends with his arm pinned underneath a boulder is reduced to about 90 minutes of claustrophobic discomfort for the audience as we anxiously await the inevitable. But nonetheless, it’s still an enormously affecting watch, and it sure does know how to get your heart racing. There’s never a dull or wasted moment to be found in the movie thanks to Franco’s sublime and enlightened performance. While shooting on location, Boyle consistently had him act in character for 20 minutes straight and then relied on the editor to find 30 seconds to make it into the final cut. This total immersion into Ralston’s desperation makes Franco all the more raw and moving.
“127 Hours” could have easily been the James Franco show, and that would have been a pretty good movie. But what elevates it from good to better than great is the incredible leadership of Danny Boyle behind the camera. Utilizing every weapon in the cinematic arsenal, including those which seem to unconventional to be used seriously, he creates a stunning masterwork deserving of endless praise. Chiefly, it’s his undying energy that makes the movie so effervescent. 90 minutes stuck in one place seems like a recipe for stagnation and stillness, but in the hands of Boyle, it’s a wonderfully kinetic motion picture. Emphasis on motion.
Everything about the movie gleams with the polish of Boyle’s work. The cinematography is breathtaking, the closest I’ve ever felt to being in a movie outside of an IMAX theater. It begins on a large scale, showing just how small Ralston is against the backdrop of massive Utah canyons. Then it gets closer, more intimate, and we ourselves begin to feel trapped. But the change in scale represents exactly the message Boyle wants to send. Under the microscope of heaven, we are very small, and it is only when we stop seeing ourselves as small when we realize how important our lives really are.
Then there’s the editing, so fast-paced and restless that we can’t help but appreciate it each step of the way. Cutting down all the footage of Franco to find all the golden moments is a lofty task, and editor John Harris really does compile a truly moving movie. AR Rahman’s score booms behind the action, doing what a great soundtrack should do:
Overall, it’s the humanity that Danny Boyle brings to the screen that makes this a cinematic achievement unlike any other. He manages to engage our senses on frightening levels. The pain we feel as we watch the boulder crush Ralston’s arm. The disgust we feel when Ralston is left with no alternative but to drink his own urine. The fear we feel as Ralston slowly loses his mind and begins to have delusions. The gut-clenching agony we feel as Ralston amputates his own arm – and the catharsis we feel when he at last emerges from the canyon and finds refuge. Ultimately, Franco and Boyle’s commitment do more than engage our senses. They engage our souls. A /