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127 Hours

Fox Searchlight Pictures // R // March 1, 2011
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted March 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author

127 Hours has a true-life plot
that would have appealed to Antonioni, but the film is shot through
with hyperkinetic visuals that recall Oliver Stone in the 1990s and
director Danny Boyle's own hit, Trainspotting. Although
the content and the form don't always interact happily, James Franco
gives an energetic and layered performance as Aron Ralston, an amateur
outdoorsman and rock climber who, in 2003, became trapped in a Utah
canyon when a boulder came loose and pinned his right arm to the rock
wall.



Boyle and co-writer Simon Beaufoy had
a number of challenges before them in selecting Ralston's story as a
film project - in fact, it almost looks as though they specifically
chose the story for its seeming plethora of anti-cinematic qualities.
One thing they had working against them was the broad media saturation
of Ralston's story. At least in the United States, virtually everyone
with functioning senses had learned of Ralston and the broad outlines
of his story within days of his escape. Another factor that would
have made many other filmmakers turn away from Ralston as a feature
subject is the relative simplicity of his tale. Ralston went out
into the wilderness alone, became trapped for five days, and finally
cut off his own arm to make a successful escape. Beyond those
bare facts, there is not much incident and only a very few supporting
characters.


Boyle and Beaufoy's success in 127
Hours
is in crafting the film's story as a running expression of
Ralston's mental and emotional state, his perceptions, his daydreams,
and his memories. Wherever Ralston's thoughts go - whether backward
into memory, forward into desire and premonition, or rooted in the dire
present - the film follows swiftly and surely. The filmmakers
are aided immeasurably by Franco's deft, fluid performance. He
plays Ralston with a goofy, dorky energy in the film's opening segment,
but that modest cockiness gives way to a transcendent sense of his own
isolated smallness as doom seems to close in. Somewhere within
that isolation Ralston found a force of will that shattered his transitory
terror to smithereens. The flux of Ralston's state of mind is
the film's - and Franco's - triumph.



But within this effective storytelling
approach, Boyle too often reaches for stylistic flourishes that take
away from the simple, stark, powerful idea that holds the whole thing
together. The camera is too active. Cutting is too rapid
and flashy, with an annoying panoply of optical and other effects taking
away from the human struggle at the film's center. Although narrative
devices such as flashback, dreams, and visions are deftly executed,
other visual tricks - including a rather repetitive Fincheresque dependence
upon being inside of things such as Ralston's water bottle, camera,
and even his doomed arm (!) - are distracting and subtractive instead
of additive.


The penultimate sequence involving
the fate of Ralston's right arm is as tooth-gnashing as one might
imagine, but it is also assembled in a way that avoids unnecessary graphic
detail. The deed is indeed carried out with a determination and
force of will that never once appears desperate. We see Ralston
toy with the idea of severing his arm earlier in the film - both
he and we know what has to come. (Despite the relative restraint
of this sequence, the person I watched the movie with - and who declines
to be identified - wound up tossing her cookies anyway.)


The DVD


Image and Sound

As is their usual practice, Fox sent a DVR screener that does not
reflect the final product. Until DVD Talk receives a retail copy
of the disc, we cannot comment upon the technical aspects of this release.


Bonus Content

Although it is uncertain as to whether this reflects the final release
version of the extra content, this disc contained a commentary track
with Boyle and co-writer Beaufoy, as well as a set of deleted scenes.



Final Thoughts


On balance, 127 Hours is a searching,
inventive film occasionally hamstrung by its own ambitions. Franco's
performance is admirable and driven. Despite seemingly unfilmable
true story that is its basis, 127 Hours will stay with you not
necessarily as a story of survival, but as a story of a harrowing interior
experience. Although I cannot speak to the technical aspects of this
Fox release, the film itself is most certainly recommended.

Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.

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