Some films transport you to the centre of their action, and watching 127 Hours your mind repeatedly goes over the same thought: What if it was me there? What would I have done?Danny Boyle’s new film is based on a memoir by American engineer and mountaineer Aron Ralston. In 2003, without telling anyone of his destination, Ralston headed into the Utah desert to climb through the remote Blue John Canyon. Trapped in a small crevice with a heavy boulder pinning his arm to the canyon wall, he spent five days trying to break free and call for help before finally using a blunt knife to cut off his arm.Just thinking about it is horrific enough, but Boyle has said that anyone in Ralston’s place would do the same. I hope I never have to find out.Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, 127 Hours stars James Franco, who is magnificent as Aron Ralston. In the first 20 minutes of the film, we see that he’s a daredevil, a free-spirited soul who enjoys the thrill of adventure. He has a reckless charm that’s irresistible to the two ladies he meets that first afternoon at the canyon, before he is stuck and his ordeal begins.For the next 70 minutes or so, we watch as he struggles to free himself. When nothing works and death seems imminent, his life flashes before his eyes.Using hallucinations, flashbacks, and a frenetic editing style, director Danny Boyle turns a grim, static situation into a thrilling emotional and visual ride. Surprisingly, there are moments of humor too, and they never appear fake. In one of the film’s best scenes Ralston, who is recording heartfelt video messages to his family on a small camera, impersonates a radio broadcast in which he does all the voices.
Everything of course is building up to that harrowing scene where Ralston decides to sever his limb. Those who’re squeamish about the sight of blood should know that Boyle doesn’t shy away from showing the amputation. We see Ralston picking through nerves and chipping away at the bone breathlessly until, just like that, he is separated from the arm, which remains stuck behind the rock.
127 Hours is an overwhelming tale of courage under fire. It’s about hope, survival, and about choosing life. Boyle tells this claustrophobic story with such visual and dramatic zeal that in the end, it amounts to so much more than just the horror of that amputation. Indeed the image that ultimately chokes you up isn’t that of the blade slicing through flesh, but of Ralston seeing help in the end and finding his voice to summon it.
The extraordinary cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, and AR Rahman’s haunting score complement Boyle’s rich and imaginative storytelling style. And James Franco who appears in more or less every scene delivers a performance nothing short of spellbinding. Franco invests everything he’s got; he sheds his pride, and gives up every last trace of vanity to create the most compelling character he’s played on screen.
I’m going with four out of five for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. It’s an experience strictly for the big screen. Prepare to be overwhelmed.