Wednesday, August 24, 2011

127 Hours

I guess if you had to pick someone working today to turn a story of a man trapped in a canyon with his hand pinned under a rock for five days into a movie, and set it entirely within that five day period, Danny Boyle would be one of the better choices. I've only seen a few of his films, but he has shown a consistent ability to make his kinetic sense of style work in a variety of genres and moods, spicing things up without distracting from the story at all. It's a perfect approach to the story of Aron Ralston, as the film is dedicated to its premise but still has a bit of free roam to experiment as it gets inside the man's head, and reveals details of his past generally with experimental visions rather than straight flashbacks.

It helps that the movie's only an hour and a half, but one of the most impressive things about it is just that it never gets boring, even though the main character is stuck in one spot for most of the running time. It's a combination of the screenplay's structure, Boyle's visual style, James Franco's arresting performance, and of course the looming dread of knowing what he'll have to do before the movie's over. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that he cuts his own hand off to escape the canyon, because it's easily one of the most famous true survival stories of the last decade. I also wouldn't want anyone to not know about that detail before seeing the movie unless they have an amazingly strong stomach, because it's one of the most gruesome scenes I've seen in a film.

I usually have no problem with violence in movies, because it's either quick enough or silly enough to not seem real, and I tend to avoid the kind of horror films that really focus on the brutality of it. But here they strove to make the scene as medically authentic as possible, and while it avoids really sensationalizing it or focusing on it too closely, it's still a tough scene to watch. It's one of the most harrowing and gripping climactic scenes I've seen in a movie, ever. It probably would have been worse if I wasn't expecting it, but even after bracing myself it was amazingly intense.

It's also really thrilling because you come to know Franco's Ralston really well in the hour and change before then, and you can see his anguish and desperation grow so vividly as the film goes on. It's an incredibly natural performance, and as much as I kind of like Franco's aloof genius stoner demeanor in public and many of his roles, I'd like to see him push himself like this a bit more often. Other actors are kept to a minimum, and the film relies the most on a single performance of maybe any that I've seen, so it was great to see him totally succeed. It's not my favorite movie of last year, but I was really impressed to see what felt like the dedicated work of basically two guys (I know there are plenty of people that are essential to getting Boyle's vision actually brought to life) get pulled off so well.

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