Nov 20, 2010
...or Danny Boyle's Disco Adventure. The only thing that keeps this movie honest is James Franco's committed, sincere and extraordinary performance as Aron Ralston, the guy who got trapped in a canyon for 5 days.
I think my prior knowledge of the plot diminished the impact the movie should have had on me. But that is not the only reason why 127 Hours feels unsatisfying.
Don't get me wrong; 127 Hours is very entertaining, breezy and fun. The cinematography (by Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak) is at times breathtaking, Danny Boyle's signature style brims with energy and panache, and some of his visual ideas are inspired, but at the same time it gets in the way and doesn't do justice to a simple story that hinges very basically on the conflict between a man and a rock. There is too much music by A.R. Rahman, there is too much pizazz, and the hyperkinetic style seems to be at odds with the story. Survival is the opposite of glamour. And yet Boyle chooses to tell a story of survival by engulfing it in cinematic razzledazzle.
The movie seems underwritten (by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy). Either that or Aron Ralston is not interesting enough as a character. I liked the fact that they never cut away to the people in his life searching for him or going about their business unaware that he was in danger. There is no search party, he is alone and we are alone with him. In flashbacks, he thinks of family, of a former girlfriend, of all the people he knows and loves. He is vaguely cognizant of his own hubris, but there could have been much more about his state of mind and about how existence changes when it is pared down to life or death.
Franco is excellent through the entire movie, but there is one scene that should get him award nods: the first time he turns his camcorder on himself. There is true fear in his eyes, and an authentic and deeply moving combination of confusion, dread and incredulity. He hits a moment of truth and it is amazing to watch. Franco anchors the movie with a quiet competence and his performance is much more authentic, solid and honest than the razzmatazz surrounding him. Everything he does feels coherent with his character: a charming, laid-back A type, a perfectly delightful guy who is cocky and blasé about risk-taking.
Boyle, however, seems to overdo everything. Ralston encounters two fellow female explorers on the way and makes them jump into an underground pool. The first time we see this, it's almost as bracing and exciting as if we were about to jump ourselves. But then they decide they want to do it again, like kids wanting seconds at a rollercoaster. This may be what actually happened, but once the jumps are repeated several times, the impact of the first jump is diminished. In the interest of keeping things moving at a breezy clip, Boyle does not stop to explain some of the stuff that happens. There is a rainstorm (CGI looks rather cheesy), and Boyle cuts to Ralston breaking away but he never explains what happened to his stuff with all that water, how he didn't drown. This casual breeziness bothered me. It detracts attention from Ralston's incredible will to live. The result is that there is much excitement, but paradoxically, none of it is that visceral. It doesn't really hit you in the gut.
If you want to see a much more suspenseful, harrowing, existential and profoundly enlightening account of adventure gone wrong, check out the documentary Touching the Void, about two mountaineers that got trapped in a snowstorm in the Andes. An awesome, existential adventure film.