The Establishing Shot: 127 Hours Review

Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Saturday, December 04, 2010

127 HoursDanny Boyle is ace. The guy has come up through the ranks of filmmaking to be one of most talented Directors working today.

It’s easy for filmmakers to stay on a winning wicket i.e. suddenly extend a hit film into a trilogy, or thinly disguise obvious natural extensions of their previous films into new films. But not Boyle, his style may be consistent; bold colours, sharp editing, digital cameras, ambient music, underlying socially conscious themes and visual trickery but each of his films is audaciously different. Seriously is there a Director with a more brave and challenging resume? Mercenaries, small time hoods, Sci-Fi, Zombies, Romance, Drugs, Bollywood and now a true life extreme sports tale.

127 Hours
And Boyle gives as much as he takes he’s very active in the film community, inspiring aspiring film makers and very loved by the locals in his home town (which he was made a freeman of last year). I’ve met Danny Boyle and it would be very hard to find a nicer guy in a square mile of London (approximately 12,450 people per square mile).

But his films aren’t for everyone and if you have a discussion with any 3 people – opinions on his films will definitely vary but each person will have a Danny Boyle favourite, whether it be; the brooding made for TV The Nightwatch, the intensity of the one room (OK mostly one house) Shallow Grave, the astounding gritty creativity of Trainspotting, the dark Sci-Fi of Sunshine, the edginess of 28 Days Later or the sheer joy of the against all odds Slumdog Millionaire.

Looking at Danny Boyle and listening to this down to earth, nice guy you wouldn’t think that he must have balls the size of brass knockers to make the films that he does. Being original every time and not resting on his laurels (1 Oscar, 1 BAFTA another 52 wins & 20 nominations) as well as going against the grain of conventional success.

I myself have loved some genius bits of Boyle’s film and not so much other bits; I haven’t enjoyed some of his films and loved others. But I was eagerly anticipating 127 Hours after being completely press ganged by the wonderfulness that is Slumdog Millionaire and hearing about his long standing eagerness to adapt 127 Hours.

Early this year I was amongst a small gathering of people that were lucky enough to be the first in the world to see the 127 Hours trailer Danny Boyle spent the 2 previous days getting the trailer ready for the viewing and was actually late for the screening because the trailer was still rendering up until he left for the QA session. You can read my write up of this here!

Danny Boyle’s been wanting to adapt Aron Ralston’s story “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” since 2005. Previously I was vaguely aware of his story. So here’s the synopsis - 127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and the two hikers he met before his accident. Will they be the last two people he ever had the chance to meet?

Well the book’s written by Aron himself so we’ve got an idea of the outcome but how we get there is the important bit.

127 Hours starts with trademark Danny Boyle visual styling (a 3 way shot, a theme that recurs throughout the film) set to a thumping soundtrack, we find Aron in his apartment packing for a trip. Finding all the bits necessary for a weekend climbing expedition in the Canyonlands National Park, Utah. A part of the world renowned for its awe inspiring natural beauty and remoteness. Aron is then in his RV heading off the grid, next he’s flying over dirt paths on his mountain bike and eventually hiking the trails taking him into the heart of the Canyonlands.

Here he bumps into 2 lost girls (Kate Mara & Amber Tamblyn) and we get our first insight into who Aron is. He’s an engineer who loves the outdoors and considers it his second home. Engaging, confident and capable – he shows the lost girls where they are, where they want to be and a spectacular off the map way of getting there. They part company without turning around to say goodbye Aron heads off on his quest. Shortly after this “complications arise when….” Aron finds himself trapped under a rock for 127 Hours. It’s Man vs. Nature at its most frustrating – Man sure of his abilities and Nature ever present, unreasoning, indifferent and ultimately unmovable.

We watch voyeuristically as Aron’s meager supplies dwindle and he slowly physical and mentally deteriorates. Initially with curious fascination at how this seemingly deft man deals with the situation, but slowly as all the cockiness drains away with his life force and Aron descends into a state of intermittent delusion, we watch in horror as alone and trapped he contemplates the unthinkable and then finally we are close to tears (if I didn’t know the guys on either side of me there may have been – in my defense I did hear a couple of man sniffles and saw at least one eye wiping) as the crux of the story reveals itself –

---------------------------------------(Here Be Spoilers)
127 Hours is really about Aron’s journey from who he is to someone else via realizations about life as his situation becomes increasingly dire. It’s Man vs. Himself.

Wherein lies the biggest issue (and spoilers) I have with 127 Hours. I enjoyed 127 Hours. I was swept away by it. Kudos to Danny Boyle for making a visually and auditory engaging tale and particularly for the final bit of the film which despite knowing the story took me by surprise. However! James Franco is good as Aron, so good in fact that he comes across as nothing less than highly likeable. But it seemed to me that 127 Hours hinges on Aron only being able to free himself physically when he makes some stark realizations about himself and in doing so freeing himself mentally. In the book this may come across better as you have pages to get under Aron’s skin but between the music video visual magic and James Franco being so likeable this falls a little flat.
---------------------------------------(Spoilers End)

Yea, the other thing I didn’t like was that I felt the visual trickery and pop music distracted and deflated the gravitas of Aron’s story somewhat. I thought the subject matter and Franco’s acting could have been supported a bit more seriously, in fact I think it probably made Franco’s job more difficult trying to build credibility with a character in a dark place with all the lightness around him.

After many viewings and in years to come when 127 Hours has passed into urban Zeitgeist and Franco picks up his Oscar – Aron may well be thought of someone who needed to change and 127 Hours hailed as a modern visual classic but after my first viewing yesterday That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Skinny
Excellent performances all round, beautifully shot, visually and auditorily engaging tale of the human spirit slightly let down by visual gimmicks and poppy style music. But I’ll be in the queue to watch it again. If James Franco is hosting the Oscars does that mean he can’t win one?

Pretty much any scene with James Franco in it was good – but I will say that there is a scene where Aron is under the rock, and things are becoming fairly intense as he is delirious and understandably in a bad way. The music and the visuals start building as Aron is checking his arm for feeling by prodding it with his knife. The tension mounts and it’s unbearable. He punctures his arm and an audible hiss is heard as the gas produced by his decomposing arm escapes allowing the tension to drop. This is also the catalyst for Aron’s next move. Powerful stuff.

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn

127 Hours

More info:
Over at the 127 Hours website


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