When I first heard Danny Boyle would be directing a film based on Aron Ralston’s true story about being trapped in a crevasse that would be called 127 Hours, my first thought was, “Please, God, don’t let him direct it in real-time!”
I’m not a fan of Boyle’s hyper visual style. I thought his Slumdog Millionaire was the most overrated film of recent memory and the worst Best Picture Oscar winner in many moons. But even as a naysayer, I can’t deny he’s become one of the premier auteurs for the “ADD-Hey-Mom-Look-at-Me!” generation that’s grown up on reality shows. With Ralston’s harrowing true story, Boyle has finally found riveting subject matter to match his out-of-control eccentricities behind the camera.
The film begins in traditional head-throbbing, loud, over-edited Boyle fashion as Ralston (James Franco, excellent in an essentially one-man-show) heads out of town for a weekend of rock-climbing and hiking through Utah’s Blue John Canyon. After a chance encounter with the lovely Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, Ralston once again heads off on his own and eventually falls down a crevasse with a rock that crushes his arm. Thankfully Boyle is not so hapless as to fail to realize that the natural beauty of the setting, the vast expanse of “wilderness” and Ralston’s singular drama should be the focus. When that focus hones in on one man’s dire predicament, Boyle enters a whole new ballgame. It becomes a film where silence is golden, and the noises that arise (the sound of Ralston screaming, rocks being chiseled, bones cracking, thunder rolling) evoke an “in-the-moment” jolt to the audience.
With Simon Beaufoy adapting Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, many of the same themes and slapdash maudlin treatments as Slumdog Millionaire are present here, but they work for the most part in the context of the reality of the film’s major conceit. With Franco’s gonzo performance and Boyle’s kinetic bravado working in close tandem, Ralston’s story becomes one of an almost hallucinogenic descent not into madness…but survival. There’s touching and revelatory flashbacks to childhood, family life and romance (in the broken-hearted shape of the ever-alluring Clemence Poesy) coupled with premonitions and fever-dreams all leading up to that horrifying moment where Ralston makes the decision to saw off his own arm with a pocket-knife.
The film’s final moments after he breaks free are an uplifting montage capped by real-life images of Ralston alive and well with his family. The dude never gave up, and in his lust-for-life madness Boyle finds his inspiration and redemption as a filmmaker. Real survival stories — not flimsy and fabricated ones about fame, fortune and exploitation — they are where it’s at, Danny.
With that being said, 127 Hours is Danny Boyle’s finest film and his most authentic artistic achievement since Trainspotting.
Written by David H. Schleicher