127 Hours film review

Make no mistake about it. 127 Hours is not a movie for everyone. If you’re at all squeamish then I guarantee that you will have a hard time watching this adventure thriller, based on unbelievable true events. This said, while I doubt you’ll want to rewatch it, 127 Hours is fascinating and completely engrossing piece of cinema. If you can stomach the last 15 minutes – Saw has nothing on 127 Hours! – you’re in for one of the most grueling, most courageous stories of survival ever filmed.

You can easily think of 127 Hours as the more lively cousin to 2007’s Into the Wild. After all, both biographical tales centre on massively independent young men in love with the remotest natural regions of the United States. Prizing their self-sufficiency and loner status, they deliberately disconnect from their families, only to find themselves trapped and regretting their selfish behaviour. In 127 Hours, James Franco plays adventurer Aron Ralston, who finds himself stuck in a crevice in Utah’s arid Canyonlands when a boulder fall crushes his right arm. With little chance of rescue, it’s up to Aron to do whatever it takes to save himself.

127 Hours could easily have been a bore. After all, for 90% of the film’s 90 minute running time the film’s hero is alone and unable to move. However, director Danny Boyle, fresh from the success of his energetic, Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire, jazzes up proceedings in a variety of ways. So we witness Aron’s dreams of escape, flashbacks to his nurturing family, friends and lovers, and even his frenzied fantasies about beverages as he begins to die of thirst. The viewer certainly isn’t anchored boringly in one spot. Neither are they subjected to dull visuals. As with Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle adopts a hyperactive approach to camerawork and editing. There’s the eye-grabbing use of split screens, and plenty of handheld home video footage as Aron, a camera junkie, documents his experience for his parents. Visually, the audience is always entertained.

Neither are they ever emotionally disconnected. Despite 127 Hours’ surprising vitality, there’s always an ominous cloud hovering over events. If you’re familiar with Aron’s story, you know what’s coming. And Boyle certainly doesn’t skimp on the visual reminders – such as our hero groping around in his cupboard for his penknife.

127 Hours is all about the unrelenting tension, which culminates in arguably one of most intense, difficult-to-watch scenes in cinema history. The rest of the film’s trials are perfectly endurable but Aron’s big sacrifice is agony, for him and the viewer. Filmed in real time and given the most realistic treatment possible, the 5 minute sequence is enough to bring on a panic attack. I consider myself a pretty hardened cinemagoer, jaded by most movie gore, but I almost fainted in the cinema. Even with your eyes covered, the film's climax is scored in such a way that you can feel and imagine the act regardless.

It’s impossible to end this review without praise for James Franco. Although the likes of Treat Williams, Amber Tamblyn and Lizzy Caplan pop up in small supporting roles, 127 Hours is a one man show. Franco may come across as a wooden and disinterested in real life (well, as an Oscar host anyway) but when acting he’s fantastic. He has to carry 127 Hours, sustaining audience interest and investment, and he’s more than up for the challenge. It's an amazing performance, definitely deserving of its Academy Award nomination.

Although 127 Hours didn't win in any of its six nominated categories (Best Film, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Original Song) at this year's Oscars, the film is definitely one of the best, and most original, released in 2010. It may not be easy viewing - with mass audience appeal - but it takes a horrifying ordeal and transforms it into a massive accomplishment against the odds. Watch it if you can.


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