“127 Hours” humbles viewers

By Nick Coviello

Courtesy Cloud Eight Films, Everest Entertainment, Darlow Smithson Productions, Dune Entertainment III, Pathé, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Danny Boyle’s newest film, “127 Hours,” arrived at Amherst Cinema last weekend. The film is a limited release, which is unfortunate, but for good reason: “127 Hours” is brilliantly executed by all parties involved in it, but is a 90-minute affair.

“127 Hours” focuses on adventure-junkie Aron Ralston (James Franco) and his experience after he finds himself trapped in a canyon while hiking after a boulder falls on his arm. As he has told no one where he is and has limited food and water supplies, he is forced to make some difficult decisions.

Like most of Boyle’s films, “127 Hours” is a piece of cinematic artwork. Not once in the film does the viewer forget that they are watching a movie, as it is vigorously edited and pumped with non-diegetic music all to reinforce Ralston, his thoughts, feelings, memories and moods. In large part, it is these elements combined with how the film handles Ralston’s remarkable five-day entrapment that makes “127 Hours” another Boyle home run.

For most of the film, the viewer is treated to a look not only at Ralston’s physical struggles, but also deep into his mind. The editing perfectly captures the essence of his mind, which travels at a million miles per hour.
Eventually, the film enters deeper into the mind of Ralston. The simple thoughts and observations turn into a self-reflexive study. Memories, regrets and realizations flood the mind of its trapped hero, which is relayed perfectly to the screen. Overall, “127 Hours” flows through the five days in a well-thought out pace. It becomes impossible not to feel for him as he thinks of his mistakes concerning those he loves the most.

Much of the pacing and tempo is set by the cinematography. There are constant shots of the area around Ralston which showcase two very different realms: one of complete isolation, alone amidst miles of deserted canyons, the other of the small canyon Ralston is trapped in, alone, yet surrounded by Earth all around him, creating a feeling of outright claustrophobia. The latter brings out the best in the flashbacks, thoughts and memories of Ralston as it shows him freeing his mind in the face of entrapment. On a lesser level, the many shots of the area are beautiful and serene, and help the audience to be more accepting of Ralston’s actions.

From a directorial standpoint, Boyle continues to tackle the character who faces overwhelming adversity only to come out of it a better person. While the story is inspirational, Boyle doesn’t try to shortchange just how Ralston became an inspiration. The truth is showcased throughout the film, Ralston is facing an internal struggle, trapped and possibly left to die, and none of his struggle is toned down. For Ralston, this adventure came with a price, but does not deviate him from his adventurist nature and makes him open his eyes to the more important aspects of life. Ultimately, Boyle handles each scene with care and his intentions never sway. Yes, it’s an inspirational story, but it is the struggle, the lessons and the payment that pumps inspiration into the story.

Though the direction, cinematography and editing gave the film a much needed burst of adrenaline, it is James Franco who carries the story forward. Aside from the two women he meets at the beginning of the film, Franco has nearly all of both the screen time and the spoken dialogue. Even then, much of Franco’s fantastic performance is created by his physical acting. It is, after all, a story of being trapped, both in peril and in isolation, with only one’s thoughts as company.

Much like Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” Franco’s performance rests in large part on his ability to appear completely helpless even when scheming up ways to release his hand from the rock’s entrapment. Franco is most impressive when he’s in a daze reliving memories or envisioning his future and his video logs offer the audience some nice dark humor in the face of adversity. Of course, there are also scenes in which Franco shines vocally more so than physically. As mentally strong as Ralston is, he still has moments where the bleakness of his situation gets to him. Franco acts these scenes out perfectly, seeming as desperate as one man could be – a total 180 degree change from his character’s normal outlook on life.

“127 Hours” is another fantastic film from Boyle. He’s not afraid to make the story as gut-wrenching as possible, but for all the right reasons. The product is realizing just why the story of Ralston is one of utmost inspiration. Not to mention, the film contains some of the best editing, cinematography, acting and overall filmmaking of this year. When all is said and done, it seems as though there will be a good chance that “127 Hours” will be the best film of 2010.

Nick Coviello can be reached at [email protected]