Aron Ralston traveled to a national park in Utah for a typical adventure involving rock climbing and hiking. Six days later, he left half his arm beneath a boulder and returned home with a newfound appreciation for life.
Danny Boyle’s film adaptation, based on Ralston’s best–selling memoir, finds the director at his most visually unhinged. The opening sequences are nothing short of brilliant, as Boyle utilizes fast–paced editing, split screens, striking color palettes and highly inventive camerawork to convey Ralston’s manic energy. Nature has never looked more stunning on film, and the lush imagery of canyons and crystal blue lakes is as much a projection of Ralston’s excitement as it is documented reality.
Nature, however, can be dangerous, a fact that Ralston soon learns when a huge rock crushes his right arm and traps him inside a narrow canyon. Nearly the entire film takes place in this cramped space that receives only a few hours of sunlight each day. As a result, the movie essentially becomes James Franco’s one–man show, a psychological portrait of an individual pushed to the extreme as his supplies slowly run out.
Franco effortlessly carries the film, achieving a perfect blend of humor, pathos and self–reflection. However, Boyle’s direction falters once things get grim. Similar to the massively–overrated Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours utilizes too many visual flourishes that oversimplify the central conflict. Flashy dream and hallucination sequences (one involving Scooby Doo) get in the way, breaking the melancholy tone and never quite allowing the audience to feel the panic and dread Ralston endured.
Boyle is at his best during simple scenes in which Ralston records videos of himself, as they offer the most interesting insights into his character and build up to the gruesome finale. The climactic amputation is not shied away from (indeed quite a few people have passed out during it), but the sense of triumph is ultimately tempered by a film that never truly delves deeply into emotions. Instead, it reduces Ralston’s experience to the trite realization that he needs to be a better son and friend.
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco
Rated R, 94 min