Revisiting 127 Hours, 10 Years Later
How does one make a film about a man literally stuck in a rock?
In his follow-up to the immensely successful, Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle brings out a tour-de-force performance from James Franco in a powerful and compelling story of one man’s will to survive. Based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (Franco) remarkable adventure to save himself after his right hand was crushed and trapped by a boulder during a freak accident in an isolated canyon in Utah, 127 Hours follows Ralston over the next five days as he examines his life and finds the courage to finally free himself by any means necessary.
Boyle, working with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) carefully adapts Ralston’s memoir Between A Rock And A Hard Place without bending the truth too much. In taking what was very much an interior dialogue, they find new ways to open it up by using flashbacks of Aron’s past, hallucinations, and dream sequences as he drifts into fantasies of a possible escape. Another method in Boyle’s arsenal is switching between third and first-person point-of-view as Aron records his thoughts with the camcorder he brought along. The video diary (something Ralston actually recorded in real life) helps us better understand what he must have felt like every attempt to move the boulder fails, and as his water supply starts to run out. These testimonials are the heart of the film – “I wish I had returned all of your phone calls,” Franco says to his mother at one point when keeping a log of his situation. Along with a bird that flew above in the mornings, the camera worked to keep Ralston’s mind externally focused.
Cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle are at the top of their game once again, taking complete advantage of every little space Franco occupies. Using the Slumdog Millionaire SI-2K camera, the audience spends a good portion of the 94-minute film trapped alongside Ralston in the narrowest of places as Franco climbs up, down and through the canyon. With an imaginative shooting style, they rely on two cameras, multiple angles, sharp cuts, and, when needed, rapid-fire editing to turn what could have been static and dull into something expeditious and inspiring. Through the heightened sound of a tape rewinding or putting the camera inside Franco’s ever depleting water bottle as he searches for the last drop, Boyle arranges sight and sound in ways to transport smell, touch, and taste.
127 Hours builds to a climax of profound human determination and profound physical pain…
Credit is surely due to editor Jon Harris (Snatch, The Descent, Stardust, Kick-Ass), who packs a sense of urgency into every frame, perfectly cutting his material together with ease. He chops away with hyperactive split-screen montages, bursts of colour, layers of sound design, and even alters the speed from the first frame to the last. The film’s 90-odd minutes are nothing short of visually stunning, technically astounding, and emotionally resonant. Slumdog collaborator A.R. Rahman follows up once again with a superb score which evolves and connects with the images and urgency of the situation.
As for Franco, he has never been more alive than he is here in an extraordinary portrayal of the famed adventurer. For long stretches, it’s a one-man show, and Boyle helps stretch the actor’s extraordinary talents to their fullest. His transformation from confident and charming to emotions of shock, fear, anger, and heartbreak is remarkable.
Without diminishing the deep transcendentalist yearnings of its young hero, 127 Hours builds to a climax of profound human determination and profound physical pain offering inspiration, exasperation, and blunt realization in a true story of one young man’s will to survive. With 127 Hours, the Danny Boyle of the epidemic horror film 28 Days Later and the provocative and controversial Trainspotting gets his nerve back: the final 15 minutes of gut-wrenching terror is not easy on the eyes nor ears.