I distinctly remember sitting in my college apartment in 2003 and reading the story of a hiker who cut his own arm off to free himself from a fallen boulder that had pinned it against a crevice wall. One can’t help but ask: What kind of mental state does a person have to be in to see that as the only way out? Danny Boyle’s new film, 127 Hours, brings hiker Aron Ralston’s gut-wrenching tale to vivid life. What he has accomplished is a film that is undeniably grueling, but also full of hope, oddball humor, and a reminder that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always be worse. Be glad you are alive.
Set in 2003, Aron Ralston (Franco) is a motivated, free-spirited mountain climber who’s on his own adventure near Moab, Utah. Along the way he meets a few girls, Kristi (Mara) and Megan (Tamblyn). The three hang out for an afternoon and then part ways. On his own, the unthinkable happens: Aron falls down a canyon wall, and a loosed boulder pins his arm to the crevice wall. Humor soon turns to panic as Aron realizes there’s no easy way out. He’s a crafty climber, even trying his own pulley system to free himself. As we all know, things eventually become life-or-death, and Aron does something that most of us probably don’t have the fortitude to do.
Logic would tell us that spending over an hour with someone pinned to wall could be quite a long hour. Director Danny Boyle was undoubtedly aware of this, but did something about it. Working from Ralston’s own book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Boyle and his team have made this a harrowing experience through and through. Utilizing a clever use of split screens, a second layer of homemade video, flashbacks, and unexpected humor, 127 Hours moves at a brisk pace and no scene is wasted. The climax is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in recent memory, but by that point we are just ready for Aron to be free. Boyle films the scene masterfully.
Bouncing between film roles and even a run on soap opera General Hospital, James Franco has turned in his finest performance as Ralston. Confident, funny, and spirited, he wins us over from the outset and it really brings his dire situation to life. Franco’s range in the role is spectacular, as he owns the final 2/3 of the film on his own. This is Oscar-caliber work and should win him the award. Supporting performances are in limited supply, though a cameo by the real-life Ralston is a wonderful touch.
127 Hours is not an easy film to sit through, but it does remind us of the will that many of us have in the face of danger, not to mention death. Ralston is a very courageous man, and his story is not one that will soon be forgotten. The fact that the film ends on an upbeat note and emanates hope gives us a window directly to Ralston’s current state. He’s content, he still climbs (after leaving a note behind telling where he is going, of course), and is not looking for sympathy. He did what he had to do to survive, and is a benchmark example of the human spirit.
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Length: 94 Minutes
Rating: R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images.
Theatrical Release: November 12, 2010 (Limited)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy. Based upon the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston.
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Sean Bott, Koleman Stinger