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127 Hours (2010) ****

November 11, 2010

Written by: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy

Produced by: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, and John Smithson

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images

94 min.

U.S. Release Date: November 12, 2010 (limited)

NOTE: Some of what you read in this review may be considered as a spoiler for 127 Hours.  Along with that, I will say that the events described in this review are made up entirely of true events that have received much publicity over the last 7 years, so I am assuming that you have heard of Aron Ralston and his story.  If this doesn’t bother you, read on.  Otherwise, go see the movie now!


In May of 2003, an independent and energetic outdoorsman named Aron Ralston went out on a solo hiking trip in the canyons of Utah.  What began as a simple overnight excursion became a nearly week long journey that changed the young man’s life.  When climbing in Blue John Canyon, Aron fell into a revine when the ground became unstable underneath him, at which point a boulder fell on his arm, leaving him stuck without anyone to help him for nearly six days.  After the fifth day of being trapped by the boulder, Aron was able to escape (in a fashion that has made him rather famous) and hike 8 miles to safety.  Fresh off Oscar success with his Bollywood-tribute Slumdog Millionaire, writer-director Danny Boyle cashed in a favor to make 127 Hours, a film that follows only one character and has an ending that is known by the world.  All things considered, was the gamble worth it?

On the front end of his Blue John Canyon hike, seasoned climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) comes across two young women who seem to have lost their way.  Being intimately familiar with the area, Aron offers to show the ladies around.  After a playtime detour, Ralston shows the two women where they should be going and they part ways.  Only moments after departing from his company, while climbing across a crevasse, Aron slips and a boulder lands on his arm, leaving him helpless and with little food or water.  In addition to that, being an extremely independent person, Aron made no attempts to let anyone know where he was going before his trip.  No one was coming to find him.

After hours of screaming for help and violent flailing to escape the boulder, it is clear that Aron isn’t going anywhere, and he will most likely die in the small canyon.  Aron rations his food and drink while he holds out hope for rescue for five days, all without being able to sit or sleep (at least not much).  During this time, the young climber reflects on his life and actions and comes to the realization that there is too much to live for to let himself die out in the wilderness with no one around.  After his reflections, and hallucinations in some case, Aron is so motivated to escape that he will try anything (search the Internet if you want to know).

127 Hours takes place primarily in the very spot that Ralston falls into when he’s trapped under the rock.  Many other filmmakers would have taken this set piece to a studio, created a half-canyon to give the lighting and camera crew plenty of room to work, however writer-director Danny Boyle did not go this route.  A full-scale replica of the canyon was built in a studio without removable walls or pieces.  This technique gave the crew far less room to work, but it plunges the viewer into a far more immersive experience, as you feel as though you have been trapped in the crevasse along with Ralston.  All you can see is the small crack of blue sky above, and the canyon walls around you.  There are no cutaways to a rescue crew, or fellow hikers enjoying the sights around him, so you, as a viewer, are just as clueless as Aron is.  This technique also gives the film more of a documentary feel, as the camera is not swooping around Aron or lighting isn’t creating unrealistic effects.  Small rigs and consumer-grade video cameras only make this film feel more real, which brings you in closer to the character.

James Franco’s performance as Aron Ralston is quintessential Oscar-worthiness.  Some films, in the past, have been carried primarily by one actor for a long period of time, but Franco makes up 100% of the screen time in this movie.  His character is independent and kind of cocky, yet you side with him.  He doesn’t embrace the relationships he has in his life, yet Franco’s performance shines a light on the friendly and personable side of Ralston.  Due to the fact that there is no one else around to talk to, Franco does a good bit of externalizing his thoughts as well as using a personal video camera to talk to his family at home (when people stumble upon his body in the future, as Ralston is sure of death in the canyon).

There are so many obstacles in shooting a film that stars basically one character, in one setting, for the entire duration of the film.  That said, Boyle knocks this one out of the park.  He manages to create suspense in a story where almost everyone knows the climax and ending.  Ralston screams and violently shakes to escape the boulder, and though you know he won’t get out, you hold your breath for a helicopter or for someone to help him out.  In addition to filming a story about intense personal and physical drama, Boyle manages to capture Ralston’s sense of humor in a fashion that engages the audience to laugh amidst a terrible scenario.  Ultimately, per a statement made in a Q&A, Boyle wanted to examine the question, “Would all of us do what Aron did in order to escape?  Many of us say “no”, but I believe we all would.  Absolutely.”

When you see this film (and I know you will because it’s going to be an Oscar-buzz-fest comes late December/early January), pay close attention to the beginning and final shots (as if you wouldn’t!).  They are identical, yet symbolize two polar opposite ideas, which is a clear display of Danny Boyle’s ability to bring an audience on a perfectly crafted and complete emotional journey.  His filmmaking, no matter the genre, is always impeccable in storytelling and technical execution.  If you have enjoyed Boyle’s previous films, you have previously heard of Aron Ralston’s story, or you just love a truly inspirational story, you must see 127 Hours.  In hindsight, this film will definitely be noted as one of the year’s best, and you don’t want to pass on that.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2010 7:37 pm

    This film closed the London Film Festival back in October and the buzz from the screening was that it was incredible. Sometimes though the fact that a British director has made a movie adds a few stars to the reviews over here, so it is good to hear the buzz was not from a source of hot air.


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