Originally Reviewed on 6/1/2011
Every great filmmaker has that wonderful moment where potential equals production; where everything they have done up to that point is prelude to an artistic self realization. Where before, in the work of the director, you could only see glimpses of their vision, they’ve now reached a Zen where everything simply works on every level. Kubrick reached his with A Clockwork Orange, Scorsese did so with Raging Bull and Spielberg hit his with E.T. Naturally, the film doesn’t have to their best work, just the piece where you can tell they have become perfectly comfortable and confident with their craft. Director Danny Boyle has reached that level with his latest film, 127 Hours and the result is a gripping, funny, poignant and shocking movie that will be sure to garner a few nominations next month.
Going from triumph to tragedy in the space of twenty minutes, 127 Hours is the true story of free spirit Aron Ralston, a wilderness enthusiast who goes off on his own to the barren wilds of Utah for some biking, some climbing and some exploration. At the start of the film, Aron screams through the desert, meets up with a pair of lost female travelers and does some flirtatious base jumping, all filmed with the kinetic energy Boyle is known for injecting into his films. However, things take a drastic turn for the worse. When scaling a tight rock crevice, Aron dislodges a boulder that cases him to fall, pinning his right arm between the boulder and the rock wall. Trapped, alone and having no way to get help, Aaron has to fight to stay alive having only the bare necessities to survive.
Much like this year’s other “trapped in something and can’t get out” claustrophobic thriller, Buried, 127 Hours primarily takes place in the cramped crevice Rogers is caught in. Unlike Buried, Hours goes deeper into the mindset of its prisoner, not only capturing the physical trauma of being stuck by a rock for five days but examining the state of mind necessary for survival. While trapped, Aron, played exquisitely by James Franco, thinks back on lost loves, his family and the steps taken that lead him right into this situation. In the hands of a lesser director, this could have been a simple survival story, but Boyle makes it a humanistic tale, something that delves deep into the zest of life required to overcome the gravest of situations. Told through flashbacks and lost memories, Boyle makes sure that we not only feel the visceral pain of Aron’s situation but get in touch with his humor, his regret and the shining spirit that sees him through.
But all that good intention would be nothing without a fantastic performance by James Franco in the lead role. Fully embodying the charismatic climber, Franco is in rare form. While I still think Milk was his defining supporting role, Franco shows he has chops to spare as a leading man and his turn in Hours may just be the best of his career. Deserving of a Best Actor nomination to be sure, Franco brings out every nuance of the real Mr. Ralston. The rest of the cast, while limited to the two girls he meets pre accident and flashbacks of a lost love, all do a fine job of coloring the world Aron hopes to not leave behind. The soundtrack is also notable as music quite often plays a character in Boyle’s films and the same can be said in his latest.
Earlier I spoke about filmmakers reaching their zenith, a point where everything else they do from then on will be judged; some better, some worse, but judged all the same. If Danny Boyle glimpsed that moment with 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, he has finally hit that high point in 127 Hours. Not only is it frighteningly claustrophobic and grittily graphic, almost too graphic for some viewer’s tastes, it takes the audience on an intensely emotional journey of self discovery. When the final credits roll, you’ve not only gone through a hellacious yet stirring journey with Aron Ralston, you feel as though you’ve gone through a journey yourself. A film that made at least one film critic re-examine the things that are most important in life, 127 Hours is a triumphantly exuberant movie that is worthy of the highest praise and dare I say a few Oscars come February.
Danny Boyle, your apex has arrived. Can’t wait to see what you have for us next.
Second Look – While I still felt the movie was amazing during my second time through, the film does suffer from some minor pacing issues, especially during the middle section. Call it second time, second guessing or simply time and place, but while the movie is still Danny Boyle’s apex as I dramatically described 8 months ago, I think there is still room for an even better film to emerge.
Score – 90%