Monday, 24 January 2011
Review - 127 Hours
The unexpected success of Slumdog Millionaire brought with it many benefits for Danny Boyle. After the mountain of awards, kudos, job offers and financial success, he found that he had been awarded a prize that many directors can only dream of - creative freedom. With this luxury, he joined forces again with Simon Beaufoy and pushed ahead with his vision to bring the story of Aron Ralston to the screen.
The story being that of a young climber who had cut his own arm off with a blunt multitool after it became trapped. It featured on almost every news channel across the world back in 2003. Beyond the incredible tale of human survival and will, it begged the question in pubs up and down the nation "Would you cut your own arm off to survive?". Somewhere amidst the beer soaked carpets and sticky tables there was Mr Boyle, with a packet of scampi fries and a pint of Black Sheep ale, thinking "Could I film this?". It turns out yes...yes you can but there are a few issues.
The very nature of the problem is the same that beset Ralston in the first place. He's stuck and he's stuck in between rocks (not impressive rocks but fairly standard rocks) in a dimly lit bit of canyon. Lesser directors may have panicked and written in extensive subplots involving family members or work colleagues but Boyle knows this is not what this story is about. The solution to gain a brief respite from the lithic environment is through imagination, hallucination and premonition. With these tools the audience come to understand Ralston, his failings, his fears and ultimately share in his triumph. Each vision letting us in on the selfish, care-free attitude that led him to his prison and the redemption that it offers to him. Driving along relentlessly, it is directed to the very limits and it is hard to see just how much further it could be taken. But Boyle extracts great value from every shot, every scream and every movement.
However, these flights of fantasy would be just another narrative device if it wasn't for James Franco in the lead. He plays Ralston exceptionally well - combining just the right level of charm, compassion, outdoorsy oddball with just a touch of selfish douchebag for good measure. It is a testament to his ability that he is able to turn the traits of an unlikeable fella into a enthralling screen presence. The handheld camera acting as his confession box, a line of communication with the world he escaped but more importantly an outlet for Franco's ability. If he ever decides to leave acting behind (or writing, academia, painting etc) then he can rest assured that he will make a rather excellent radio talk show host.
That scene about which so much horror has been expressed is down to him. Regular viewers of Holby City, 999 or anyone with an internet connection will have seen worse before in the fake blood and guts department. Franco brings it to life though with contorted grimaces, breathless personal reassurances and chilling screams of agony. Hands instinctively squeezing the top of forearms as eyes look on. It puts the extras on Casualty to shame. It would be a great shame though if the gore albatross were hung round it's neck as well as doing a disservice to the work of those who put the film together.
Both Boyle and Franco milk every frame for all that it is worth. You can't hold it against them though. It lasts 94 minutes and it is difficult to see what else could possibly be included but near impossible to suggest something that the film could do without. It will be interesting to see what Boyle is mulling his pint over next.