127 Hours (2010)

9 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

OK, so acclaimed Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle has a film that has only a limited theatrical release. At the time, I thought it was quite odd for a movie made by the director of the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” to not get a wide release. But then, I realized that this movie—entitled “127 Hours”—is based on the true story of Aron Ralston’s…incident. In 2003, Aron Ralston, a 27-year-old hiker, hiked along Blue John Canyon in Utah without telling anybody where he was going. Something went wrong and he fell into a narrow canyon—his right forearm was crushed by a boulder against the rock wall, keeping him trapped in there for nearly five days until he finally did what he had to do in order to escape and live. What he had to do is shown in great detail for a three-minute gruesome scene in “127 Hours”—it’s a scene so gruesome that many test audiences for the movie either walked out, fainted, or closed their eyes. This is why the movie is only in limited release.

Now, it’s not that I blame Fox Searchlight Pictures for a long trip to see this movie (I had to go all the way from Manila, Arkansas, to Little Rock to see it at Rave Motion Pictures—I usually see my movies in Jonesboro). It is a gruesome scene and I must admit that I did close my eyes at a couple points. But here’s my statement: You shouldn’t let three minutes of realistic gruesomeness in a 92-minute movie ruin a great experience. “127 Hours” is a haunting, effective, gripping, and unforgettable film that accurately tells the amazing story of how Aron Ralston came to terms with his own life while trapped “between a rock and a hard place” (that being the name of the book written by Ralston himself).

The movie stars James Franco in an excellent performance as Aron, a cocky, adventurous hiker who lives for adventure. By bicycle and foot, he treks along the Blue John Canyon in Utah just for the fun of it. We have a nice prologue in which we get great shots of the canyon—very lovely cinematography here—and we get to know Aron a little before the big incident. Aron starts his hike and then he meets up with two female hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He shows them the way they want to go, but after they take a swim in an underwater cavern. Then, he waves goodbye to the women and goes off alone again…and then the unthinkable happens.

So he’s trapped inside the canyon and the thought of anybody looking for him (or even passing by) is unthinkable itself. People rarely hike down here and Aron isn’t close with anybody, so he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He sums it all up in one word: “Oops.” No kidding—this is a pretty big “oops” moment. He’s very low on supplies, food, and water. He has a watch, a video camera, and a cheap multipurpose tool he tries to use to chip the rock a little so he can free his hand and get out of the canyon. But this shows no luck, since his hand seems to be supporting the rock, rather than the opposite.

I imagine it’d be very hard to make a movie like this. To make it right is a greater obstacle. How do you make a movie where a character remains immobile for more than an hour in the film? How do you make a startling story like this into a dramatically satisfying piece of work?

Well, I have the answer—the casting of James Franco. He makes for good company, his acting is natural, and he apparently knows Aron Ralston enough to make him seem like…Aron Ralston. He’s a wild adventurer who is also smart and quick-thinking. There is room for cockiness and humor (such as when he documents himself on his video camera and imagines himself on a talk show) while there is also a great deal of dramatic range. He realizes that he hasn’t appreciated his family and friends as much as he used to and since he is probably going to die here, he feels so sad about it. After a couple days in the canyon, he starts to experience hallucinations in which they all visit him. The drama in “127 Hours” really works, especially considering that we know that Aron will have his second chance after being trapped for five days in the canyon. He had to do what he had to do in order to live and that was…to use his cheap tool to self-amputate his arm. Would anybody have done it? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I would’ve done it, though it seems very logical. One thing is for sure—it is not easy to watch. This is a very unpleasant scene and I don’t blame anybody who had eyes closed. But it takes almost an hour and a half leading up to it, letting us understand who Aron is and why he’s doing this.

“127 Hours” is not a film I will soon forget. It’s an effective film set in some of the most beautiful places on Earth, it tells an accurate retelling of an amazing and haunting true story, the drama works wonderfully, the movie is splendidly well-made, and then there’s the most important ingredient—James Franco’s flawless portrayal of Aron Ralston. It also makes you think—this is a movie about a guy who never embraced life until he almost dies. He realizes that everyone he knew, he never appreciated until this moment. This goes to show that every second in life counts. It’s a terrific film.

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