Variety is the spice of life. With that in mind, director Danny Boyle decided to follow up his nicey-nicey, award-hogging sparkly dance-fest Slumdog Millionaire with a true story about a trapped canyoneer who is forced to cut off his own hand to save his life. Danny Boyle didn’t spice up his life, he destroyed the recipe.
127 Hours tells the real-life story of Aron Ralston, a prolific climber. Ralston’s story is a famous one: in 2003 he fell while climbing Blue John Canyon in Utah and landed at the bottom of a claustrophobic ridge. He dislodged a boulder which tumbled with him, crushing his right hand against the ridge wall. The boulder was too heavy to move let alone lift, and being a little arrogant he made the disastrous decision not to tell anyone where he was going. He desperately tries everything to escape: pushing and pulling at the rock every which way, chipping away at the rock with his multi tool, rigging a pulley system to try and heave the rock upwards, but nothing works. After six days he was forced to make a decision: stay and die, or cut off his hand and escape. As if that wasn’t hard enough, all he had to do it with was a cheap multi-tool with a small, blunt knife.
Danny Boyle expertly manages to keep a film, essentially about one man and a rock, riveting all the way through. True to Ralston’s adrenaline junkie attitude, Boyle makes even James Franco taking a sip of water into a furious act, filled with jittery immediacy and tension. The moment everyone has been waiting for comes without fanfare and is believable without being sensational. If this were to happen in a horror movie this would be intended only to shock and while there is some gore, it comes at the end of Ralston’s emotional journey making it triumphant and emotional.
It should be said that James Franco is superb as Aron Ralston. I will admit to being slightly put off by him in the first instance because when I watch a Franco performance I too often see James Franco, not the character he is playing. Too often I found him to be a slightly grinning, smug, poser. Here he is utterly brilliant in what is not an easy role to take. There is very little in the way of other performances for him to react to but he portrays Ralston’s arrogance, anger, fear, and vulnerability with such power. There is already the whisper of award talk about 127 Hours, and I’m not surprised by this at all.