Tuesday, November 16, 2010

127 Hours - Theatrical Review

Release Date: November 5, 2010
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Arclight Cinemas Hollywood
Time: 8:00 pm November 13, 2010
Projector Type: Film

Loves: Danny Boyle, survival stories
Likes: Single location films
Neutral: James Franco

Director Danny Boyle is a man that adapts to any particular story he decides to tell. He has no genre he is affiliated with and is never seen as the guy that does "blank" really well. His gift comes from his ability to morph his style of direction into whatever is needed to tell the story as best he can. His body of work encompasses such diverse subjects as hard science-fiction, zombie horror, and family films. This time he has brought to us a tale of a man. A man that was so wrapped up in how great he thought he was that he alienated all those around him to the point of him feeling he didn't need anyone else. This is the story of a man who came face to face with death, despair and all the mistakes he has made over the course of his self centered life. This is the inspiring true story of how Aron Ralston gained the courage to save his own life when all hope seemed lost.

We are introduced to Aron (played by an alarmingly good James Franco) like a speeding freight train. Boyle kick starts the film into fifth gear as we see Aron prepping for his weekend hike through Blue John Canyon, Utah. It is immediately apparent that this is a routine he is more than familiar with as he multitasks by filling his water bottle, packing all the essentials such as a flashlight, pocket knife, rope and his trusty camcorder. However, like a dark sky signaling a coming storm, we see that he was unable to locate his Swiss army knife which has horrifyingly drastic consequences later in the film. Next we see him zipping down the road as he whips out that camcorder and begins documenting his weekend excursion.

To say Aron is portrayed as a little free wheeling would be an understatement.
After a night spent in the back of his pick-up truck he is off in no time on his mountain bike traveling cross country like nobodies business. He ends up coming across a couple of female hikers that are lost and aids them acting as a kind of hip tour guide. He woos them with his charming ways and then takes off like a lightning bolt leaving the girls to their own devices. Aron is extremely confident in his canyoneering skills as we see him slide down rock faces, leap into crevices and basically free form his way through any obstacle he comes across. Until the unthinkable happens...

Through no fault of his own, a rock is dislodged from above and comes crashing down the crevice towards him. As it tumbles downward he tries his best to avoid it but almost as suddenly as it happened, the rock comes to a sudden stop just in front of Aron. It takes him a few seconds to let the state of shock fade away and that is when he notices that his right hand is stuck. It is wedged in between the rock and the crevice wall. From that point forward we join Aron on his journey, both emotional and physical, that takes place over the next 127 hours.

Blue John Canyon is a mighty pretty place.
In case you missed it earlier when I mentioned it, this is based on the true story of Aron Ralston and what happened to him during a weekend hike back in 2003. I suppose if you haven't heard of what happened to him and why his story is such a big deal I would suggest proceeding forward cautiously if you are worried about spoilers. I am not really too worried about ruining anything though because of two reasons. First is that I went into it knowing its outcome myself and it didn't effect me negatively at all. As a matter of fact I believe having the knowledge of what Aron's plight actually made it all more meaningful to me, which leads into the second reason. I truly believe that knowing the outcome will only make the journey he takes resonate that much more than if you went into it cold. Plus given the films graphic conclusion it might help to be prepared.

Remember that this is coming from someone that loathes spoilers for movies. I would never tell anyone something about a film if I knew that knowledge would detract from the overall enjoyment of their watching it. So be forewarned, I will be talking about this film in great detail throughout this review. That being said let's move on now, this film is pretty much a one man show. Most of the screen time is devoted to Aron and his ordeal as he tries time and time again to find someway to break free. It never ceases to amaze me how a film maker finds a way to take a story that basically takes place at one location and is able to keep it all fresh for the whole length of the film. And that is exactly what Danny Boyle has done here.

Aron shows the girls some spills and chills on their mini tour.
Danny Boyle is a master at creating tension on screen and in his audience. The way his films are edited in both their assembly and their sound design always commands your attention. Take the opening sequence as we follow Aron from his home all the way to Blue John Canyon, he compiles a series of shots and actions into a 3 way split screen so that we always know our destination while also introducing us to the hot dog nature of this man we will be spending the next 5 days with. The amount of character beats he fits into that opening scene is staggering and by the time Aron meets his destiny with that rock we know just enough about him to understand how he got himself into that predicament.

The sequence leading up to that fateful moment where we see Aron traversing the canyon in an almost carefree but skillful manner is so full of tension despite the fact that we already know what awaits him. The cinematography and how Boyle uses the camera to follow him as he squeezes his way through the narrow passages of the crevice kept me on the edge of my seat during that entire segment. When the rock did finally come crashing down on him I actually let out sigh of relief which struck me as an odd reaction to such a horrible circumstance in hindsight. It is a true testament to Boyle as a film maker however, that he is able to keep us engaged in something we already know the outcome to.

Aron takes a lot of chances as he hikes, which didn't work out too well for him.
Not all accolades are directed to Mr. Boyle however, much of the praise has to be given to James Franco who turns in what I believe to be his best performance to date and one of the best performances of the year. The range of emotions he goes through is both believable and heartbreaking and to some extent comical in a very dark way. What Franco adds to this mix is he gives this man a real heart and soul. Once he gets stuck we see him go from the obnoxiously charming guy we got to know in that first 20 minutes into a frustrated and regretful person and finally into someone that has come to terms with everything that has led to this point in his life. He is able to say so much with just a look, when he realizes that he is pretty much screwed he doesn't have to say a word, his knowing glance towards us through that camcorder is all we need to see.

Franco's performance helps us sympathize with him by showing a certain vulnerability underneath that cocky exterior. This is shown most prominently during one of his many exchanges with his camcorder after the 3 day mark. The whole thing starts out with a very comedic tone as he plays the part of a reporter and interviews himself about how he could have possibly ended up in this horrible situation given how skillful a hiker he is. It quickly degrades into heartbreak though as we learn some key information, such as the fact that he has told no one where he was going which he knows means there is no chance of anyone coming out to even look for him for another couple of days. The look of realization on Franco's face shows that he knows he screwed up and screwed up bad.

Such a simple problem with such a horrible solution.
I have been avoiding any discussion about his solution to his problem up until now because it is quite honestly one of the most horrific scenes I have seen in a film in a very long time. And just like I have done here it is all hinted towards and referred to as each day passes by. We see Aron look at his tiny dull pocket knife and we know, as does he, that if it comes down to it that it is the only tool he has to work with. So as time goes by he begins stress testing it for lack of a better term. He starts by testing its sharpness, which it clearly isn't, by attempting to cut his arm with it. That doesn't work due to how dull the blade is so the next time he actually stabs himself with it which seems like he is finally making some headway. Until he realizes that his knife will never cut through his bone. Unfortunately for him he eventually has no choice.

On the last day and the last act of the film it finally comes to pass what we all have been dreading but expecting, he must cut off his arm or die. That is not an easy choice, hell for some people that isn't even a choice. I don't think I could ever do what he did to survive. But then again you never know what your capable until you are faced with an impossible decision that you have to make. And Aron Ralston made that decision, he cut through his arm with a dull one dollar pocket knife and eventually freed himself. I will not give details of what all transpired during those few minutes of screen time but suffice to say that you better have ate before you see it because you will lose your appetite for the rest of the night after seeing the horror he had to suffer through to live.

What do you think the chances are of finding somewhere out there even if you were looking for them?
But as horrific as that was you feel a sort of relief afterwards that is really quite poignant. Everything Aron went through to finally build up the courage, nerve or willpower to do what he had to do you feel that he was meant to undergo this journey. And you get the feeling he feels the same way when he comes to terms with how he got himself in this mess and how only he can make it right. There is a moment when he says to himself that this rock has been there waiting for him his all this time. His entire life has been leading up to this one moment where he must face his demons and either come out on top or don't come out at all. Well, he faced those demons and not only came out on top but came out a better person from the experience as well. The triumph of the human spirit has never been a more apt statement as here.

In case you couldn't tell yet I absolutely love this film. I tried and could find no faults to it, although I can see some people having issues with how Danny Boyle films his movies but that is more a technical issue and not a story based one. This film will get under your skin, but in the best way possible. Every moment you are with Aron in that canyon you feel as though you are experiencing everything that he went through and you will come out of that theater feeling as inspired as you ever have before. Inspired to live life to its fullest. Inspired to treat the ones you love with more respect. And most importantly you will feel inspired to always tell someone where you are going for the weekend from that day forward. Not that this comes as much of a surprise by this point but I say...



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