MOVIE REVIEW: 127 Hours

Find out why our SPOT.ph movie reviewer gave this Oscar-nominated James Franco film 5 out 5 Spots.

James Franco’s performance earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor

 

Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (James Franco) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy), 127 Hours is another arresting, brilliant piece of tense and kinetic filmmaking from director Danny Boyle. Boyle was the auteur who won the Oscar for Best Director two years ago for Slumdog Millionaire, which also won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2008. A gripping and sometimes gross true story of survival, 127 Hours is guaranteed to hold your attention from start to finish, and convince anyone who sees it that they should never go anywhere alone, or without telling anyone where they're going.

 

Watch the trailer

 

Based on the non-fiction book "Between A Rock and A Hard Place" by Aron Ralston, the movie dramatizes what happened when a boulder crashed on the arm of Ralston (played superbly by James Franco) and trapped him in an isolated canyon in Utah during a hiking trip in 2003. The film shows Aron's attempts to free himself, as well as his flights of fancy and videocam reportage during his ordeal. Most provocative of all is Aron's moving examination of his life and the people he holds dear, a reflection triggered by thoughts of his own impending death at the hands of Mother Nature.

One of the most praiseworthy qualities of the film is how Boyle manages to make the film both claustrophobically intense and panoramically expansive at the same time. The challenge was to make the audience feel what it was like for Aron Ralston to be trapped for more than five days in that cave, without making the film static and visually repetitive. Boyle rises to this challenge by getting into Ralston's pop-culture littered head, and using his hallucinations, flashbacks, premonitions and bouts of wishful thinking to get us out of that depressing hole he's trapped in. The film in fact begins with a dazzling three-way fast-motion split screen of city life (people crossing busy streets, crowded  sports tournaments), which feels like Boyle's attempt to start 127 Hours with views of some of the things that a pop culture-educated city boy would miss if he was trapped in the wilderness. Sure enough, when Ralston is feeling mighty parched after not having had a drink for many hours during the initial stages of his entrapment, writer/director Boyle doesn't make the character say, "I'm soooo very thirsty." Rather, Boyle shows a quick montage of colorful soda commercials to make the statement in a more visually exciting manner.

Boyle also throws in some extreme close-ups and extreme wide angle shots for added visual ooomph. The uninterrupted, "powers of 10" pull out from a closesorup of Franco's tortured face to the aerial shot of the canyon filmed from hundreds of feet in the air is already the trailer's money shot. There are also scenes where it appears like the camera is inside the bottle of precious water that's keeping Aron alive, and even CSI-like glimpses of how all this stress is affecting Ralston's innards. Macrophoto lenses also give the ants which are keeping Ralston company appear as large as those from an H.G. Wells story. From the very small to the very large, from microscopic views to panoramic vistas, 127 Hours has a breadth of scope to its visuals that you wouldn't have thought possible for a movie about a guy trapped in a confined space.

Matching the visuals mood for mood is the eccentric, Oscar-nominated score by A.R. Rahman, who won two Oscars (original song and original score) for Slumdog Millionaire. Rahman's score for 127 Hours zips between simple guitar chords and a steely percussive sound that evokes rattlesnakes to full blown, full-orchestra arrangements that have a haunting, Enya-esque quality for the movie's more reflective and poignant moments. Adding to the film's media-centric quality is the ironic use of the song "Lovely Day" at the start of Ralston's ordeal, and the sight (and sound) of pop icon Scooby Doo.      

But for all the captivating visual and aural delights which are presented in 127 Hours, none is more mesmerizing than James Franco himself, who as Aron Ralston magnificently compresses the desperate and harrowing experience of the mountain climber's five-day ordeal into a compact and moving 80-minute performance. Whether he's trying to let the sunshine warm up his foot or apologizing via videocam to his mom for not picking up the phone the last time she called him, the spare but eloquently readable emotions etched on Franco's face, coupled with his truthful line delivery, are a textbook example of what affecting acting is all about.

Praiseworthy too is the script- also Oscar nominated- which gave Franco lots of opportunities to show many other emotions other than panic and loneliness. My favorite is the scene where Ralston begins interviewing himself using his camcorder, casting himself as a contestant on a game show who has to explain why he's in this potentially fatal predicament. There's also a funny warning issued by Franco/Ralston about buying stuff that's made in China which won't endear this picture to the Chinese.  

And for those who are wondering, the stomach-turning solution which Ralston employs to get out of his tight fix was left uncut by our MTRCB, which gave 127 Hours a PG-13 rating (it was rated R in the USA by the MPAA). If you don't think you can handle the said scene, just close your eyes. I myself was tempted to shut my eyes during this climactic scene, but in the end, I decided to be brave and watch the action in its bloody entirety. That was because 127 Hours is just one of those films I didn't want to miss even one frame of.



Rating: 5 out of 5 Spots •••••

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