Danny Boyle traps James Franco at the bottom of a canyon--and makes it cinematically exciting and excrutiating
Published: November 19, 2010
Danny Boyle's latest outing is a super-stylish music video of a docu-drama-qua-action movie that spends nearly its entire length at the bottom of a narrow, dim Utah canyon with its one character trapped within a radius of about two feet. That would be Aron Ralston (James Franco), a fairly serious lone wolf of a twenty-something adrenaline junkie/yuppie/engineer that, while dancing around a remote Utah desert with the kind of familiarity that a dog knows its yard, dislodges a boulder, which then tumbles directly onto his hand, trapping it with the kind of cold certainty that makes medieval shackles look like finger-cuffs.
You barely get any time to meet this guy, either. 127 Hours offers 10 or so quick-paced minutes of driving, biking, flirting with some hikers, and then pow--a movie that could’ve passed as a Warren Miller action-sports romp flushes you into the brutally real. Ralston isn't just trapped, but trapped at the bottom of an untraveled, very narrow canyon without reception and, presumably, out of shouting distance of nearby trails. Also, he’s about a 20 mile bike ride away from the nearest parking area. Cell phone? Please. Also, he’s down to a Nalgene bottle of water, which Ralston stares at like a death row inmate counts the minutes before midnight.
All of which makes the movie sound much gloomier than it is. Ralston is a good-natured cut-up and, as he talks into his camcorder and/or himself, he recognizes well enough the humor of the situation, while looking at it as the ultimate lone wolf challenge. And you can barely even empathize properly with him because the average person would be crying like newborns and probably dead by now--before 127 Hours reaches its pivotal/climactic amputation, the reason why his story is worth telling, and which is as fucking awful and cringe-inducing as you might imagine and then quite a bit more. Let’s just say there’s much more to a self-amputation than you’d assume: bones, big stringy things, one mainline nerve. This scene is finally, after 127 hours, what it takes Ralston to look genuinely shocked and, well, like he’s not living through an adventure movie.
Franco’s charisma as Ralston plus Boyle’s hyper-stylized, wicked efficient filmmaking keeps the movie jostling if not bouncing along in quick cuts between the canyon floor, Ralston’s memories, and, eventually, his hallucinations. It’s been a good number of years since Trainspotting but, oh my, Boyle does have a way with a hallucination. Somehow, a movie about a man forced to drink his own pee and hack his arm off with a butter knife-dull blade becomes not fun per say, but a rush. In the end, there is a moral and it’s way familiar to anyone that’s seen the other lone wolf docu-drama, Into the Wild, but it still makes you a bit squishy inside.
> Email Michael Byrne