127 Hours is a story of survival, of one man overcoming his basic needs to fight another day. It’s evocative, personal, graphic, and absolutely brilliant. It sucks you in and forces you to survive right along with James Franco’s portrayal of rock climber Aron Ralston, and the experience is not one you can easily forget.
In April 2003, in southeastern Utah, canyoneer Aron Ralston left home on his own to spend a day in the mountains. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going, expecting to be back by sunset. What happened would change his life forever. This is that story, and I don’t think it could’ve been any better.
James Franco plays Ralston, and despite what everyone says about Franco, he wholly deserves the Academy Award nomination he got for Best Actor. Franco plays his role perfectly; he’s likable, slightly cocky, and oh so determined. With the movie entirely resting on his shoulders, as he is almost the only actor on screen for most of the film, his performance is really quite astonishing.
I’ll admit to not being a huge Franco fan, but I don’t have any dislike towards him either. Sure, he’s had his bad movies, but I hope movies like this one remind people that this man is a fully capable actor in every meaning of the word. I mean, this is his movie through and through, and not once did I wish he wasn’t. He couldn’t have been any better, and I have no doubt this will be the standout performance of his career.
While Franco deserves much of the praise for this movie’s success, I would be amiss if I didn’t sing the praises of director and writer Danny Boyle. He is a master of pacing, and I’m not sure how he did it, but he managed to make a two-hour movie about a man in a hole one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had.
By starting the movie off with just about twenty-minutes of build-up, Boyle actually manages to convince his viewer that everything’s going to be okay, even though we all know it won’t be. We get to see Ralston in his element in these first scenes, biking, climbing, and showing off to a couple of girls like he’s done it a million time.
We buy into his skill and expertise, which makes the inevitable, sudden turn of events all the more shocking. It’s not an event that could’ve been really avoided, but still, seeing a man who so fully knows what he’s doing literally trapped between a rock and a hard place is chilling and infinitely memorable.
What follows is the most visceral, intense ninety-minutes that I’ve ever experienced from a film that didn’t call itself a horror movie. It’s a very personal film that shows off a single man overcoming almost every human need and desire in order to survive, and it would be nearly impossible to not imagine yourself in the very same situation.
Being able to see Ralston’s reactions as he discovers his arm has been pinned by an unmovable boulder is something I won’t soon forget. Right before our eyes we see the man go through numerous stages of fear, acceptance, and anger at his current situation, and Franco does such a good job at reflecting the emotional turmoil Ralston must’ve been in that it’s hard not to feel everything right along with him.
I’m actually not even sure I sat still a single moment during the film. Being slightly claustrophobic, I felt Ralston’s panic as he did, and often had to wiggle my fingers just to make sure I still could. This is one of those experiences that you don’t just observe, but live as well. It’s not fun, necessarily, but I would be lying if I said I regretted a second of it.
The only flaw I can actually think of with this film is that it’s going to turn off a lot of people. This is gritty stuff, and I know few people who people, outside of dedicated movie buffs like myself, who would willingly put themselves through it. It’s only quite graphic, and if you’re at all scared of blood than you’ll probably get squeamish at least twice.
There was more than one occasion when I almost had to stop the movie just because I wasn’t sure I could handle it. While Boyle breaks up the intensity with Ralston’s hallucinatory flashbacks, the film’s final act is something I couldn’t forget even if I wanted too. It’s just that intense.
But the sense of victory and triumph after it’s over makes the whole thing feel worthwhile. I don’t plan on watching this film again anytime soon, but I am so very glad I took a chance to see it at least once. Franco’s performance and Boyle’s directing would make the film worth watching on their own, but together, it makes 127 Hours a must-see for anyone who can handle it.
It’s unlike anything else, and will likely stand as the epitome of the careers for everyone involved. It deserves every ounce of respect it’s received, and I hope it stays revered for a very long time