By: Addison Wylie
A strange occurrence happens every so often where films dealing with similar subject matter will be released in the same year. This year, those films are Buried and 127 Hours. The subject matter at hand? Both films feature our lead protagonist trapped in a small space and we follow them as they fight for survival. Although the sticky situation is similar, the two films shouldn’t be compared. 127 Hours, the latest film from Danny Boyle, the Academy Award winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, features sequences of stylistic peril and instances of humour as well as one of the most gruesome scenes in recent movie-going memory. However, although the real life story of rock climber Aron Ralston may be harrowing and courageous, the film manages to fall in a trap itself where the story isn’t strong enough to sustain a full length motion picture.
Rugged and revving to go, young Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, travels to the most desolate desserts to rock climb and bike across the terrain. Every so often, he runs into nearby tourists and acts as a tour guide; showing them around the environment and pointing out his favourite secret spots. This time, after running into two young hikers, played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, Aron decides to explore Moab, Utah without them. Relaxed and carefree, Ralston accidentally slips and falls down a cavern where a boulder falls after him and sandwiches his forearm between it and the cliff. Ralston is now subjected to the fate and must fight to survive which may just push him to some risky measures.
There is no doubt that Boyle is a sensational director. He’s shown in films like Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting that he has a unique sense of visual style. Here, it’s no different. Boyle uses digital cinematography and various close-ups to capture the emotional roller coaster Ralston goes on. Boyle directs cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle so that they get up close and personal with Franco to establish how tight his surroundings are around him and just how high his stress level is. Boyle also makes use of quick editing cuts and split screen manoeuvres to transfer the hectic adrenaline going through Ralson’s veins to an audience. Editor Jon Harris is extremely competent of setting up this chaos that constantly is in tact throughout the film. To recall a style of Boyle’s past, the overall feel of the film reminded me of the hallucination scenes from The Beach, an underrated masterpiece of Boyle’s, mixed with a Mountain Dew commercial. This works until the story starts to wear thin. Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy are able to create something original with their script while sticking faithfully to the original material but the script itself runs its course fast. I never felt peril until the last third of the movie because our protagonist’s motives aren’t set up too well. Of course, the stakes are high. If Aron doesn’t make it out from the rock in time, he’ll die. However, the film illustrates him as so care free, he appears to have nothing to lose. He doesn’t have a family of his own, he’s separated himself from his parents and everyone around him. Why should I feel for him? It may sound cold blooded but with Franco’s portrayal of Ralston, there was nothing to root for.
That said, Franco portrays a carefree teenager, with no worries, successfully. Franco has been getting Oscar buzz in regards to his performance but the caliber is no where near that ball park. However, it may be the best dramatic work he’s done. During the scenes where he’s forced to think outside the box in order to get his arm escaped, his balance between heroic and fearful is exceptionally portrayed. However, to link this thought back to Boyle’s directorial pizzazz, Franco’s performance as well as the story feel inadequate and they get over shadowed by how anxious and forceful the visuals are. At first, especially during the opening credits, Boyle’s style is refreshing and visually appealing. However, because the script feels feeble and Franco’s character isn’t developed enough, the style immediately takes the front seat. The movie immediately becomes a case where the audience is paying more attention to how the film looks than to the emotional impact Boyle and Beaufoy are trying to get across. Progressively, the film begins to feel a little over-stylized because of how unbalanced the script is with the other components.
Overall, the film is very good but has missed opportunities. I have no doubt that Boyle and Beaufoy tried their best to match the passion Boyle had about the project. You can sense the rawness from behind the camera but not from the pen. However, judging by how many hallucinations Ralston has in 127 Hours, it is a possibility that the subject matter just wasn’t meant for a feature film adaptation. As for the gruesome scene that will have everyone talking, it’s terribly hard to describe it without giving away key points. All I will say is that I have a very strong stomach and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something that has made me wince and feel as faint as I did during that three minute sequence. No matter how cranked up the style was in this film and how little emotional impact the film had on me, that was the standout scene where the film successfully was able to get an emotional rise out of me.