Wednesday, May 25, 2011

127 Hours

Directed by Danny Boyle.
2010. Rated R, 94 minutes.
James Franco
Kate Mara
Amber Tamblyn
Treat Williams
Kate Burton
Sean Bott
Lizzy Caplan
Koleman Stinger

Eventually, Aron Ralston (Franco) travels inward until he reaches the murkiest depts. Of his soul. He comes to realizations he might not have, had he not been afforded so much time, not only alone, but unable to distract himself with his usual activities. Truthfully, his usual activities have gotten him into this mess. He’s a loner and an outdoorsman. As soon as he leaves work on Friday evenings, he’s normally off to some remote place to hike, climb and/or dive. This weekend, it’s Blue John Canyon. He goes alone, without telling anyone where he’s going.

At first, things are going great. Aron bumps into a pair of young ladies who are lost. He takes a couple hours to help them get where they’re going with laughs and giggles throughout. Once he parts ways with the girls, it’s back to his solo adventure. While exploring the canyon, he slips and falls. When he stops, he finds his right arm to be literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is wedged between the two walls of the canyon and cannot be moved by Aron. Despite his best efforts, he can’t get the thing to budge. Over the next five days, Aron spends his time trying to free himself, reminiscing on his life to this point, dreaming of a future he may never have and having the occasional hallucination.

Aron is also videotaping himself on the camcorder he carries on every excursion. He hopes that someone would get the footage to his family should he not survive this ordeal. In the horror genre, lost footage films are all the rage and have been since The Blair Witch Project up through the recent Paranormal Activity franchise along with a number of other such movies. 127 Hours is not considered a horror flick, but to me that’s precisely what it is. Movies about masked and/or disfigured boogeymen are gory and silly, even fun to watch, but they are hardly scary. Haunted house flicks can be a little more unsettling, if watched in the right setting. Even then, the uneasiness they cause might linger an couple hours after they’re over, at best. Watching a regular person make one misstep and find himself truly isolated is a bigger fright. It’s more tangible. It’s easier to see this happening to ourselves. I’m sure a homicidal maniac “could” show up and wreak havoc on my next camping trip, but its much more likely I’ll go exploring the area and get lost. If I’m lost long enough, the thoughts running through my head will probably mirror Aron’s. This would be even more true if I were facing something so immediately life-threatening as being pinned in one spot with access only to whatever I was carrying.

Since Aron’s predicament is somewhat relatable and the things he thinks about only make perfect sense, this movie wrecks our nerves. They’re calmed somewhat by the fact that this is based on a true story. The story made headlines, so many people know the outcome going in. However, even knowing how it turns out doesn’t prepare us for the pivotal scene in which Aron does something that will free him, kill him, or both. If you don’t already know what happens, I won’t tell you. Suffice it to say, I was physically uncomfortable watching it play out. I did mention that I consider this a horror film, right?

Director Danny Boyle keeps us engaged by letting us into Aron’s mind. He doesn’t merely point the camera at a man stuck to a rock. He explores the man. To make this work, star James Franco is willingly explored. For my money, this is easily his best performance. To be honest, I haven’t liked him in anything I’ve seen him in. Here, he plays his role wonderfully. It’s easy for an actor to be over the top when they’re often the only person on the screen. However, taking a cue from Tom Hanks in Cast Away, his emotions fluctuate perfectly throughout. The movie as a whole does the same. We ride the roller coaster anxiously as it ascends, afraid as it drops and excitedly through the loops.

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