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It’s not that Danny Boyle tops himself with each new film he makes. For example, “Slumdog Millionaire” was fantastic, but it wasn’t the director’s best work (I reserve that high praise for “28 Days Later”). It’s that Boyle challenges himself with each project, taking on new genres and new thematic approaches. From psychedelic brain teasers and zombies to sci-fi, Bollywood and even a children’s story, Boyle is truly one of those rare filmmakers who confuses the line between Hollywood cinema and arthouse endeavor…and I love him for it.
All that to say, referring to his latest film, “127 Hours”, merely as a drama about a man stuck in cave after a rockslide would not be a complete description. It’s never just a genre film for him. Horror is never just about a visceral thrill and here, it isn’t what you’d expect. Boyle’s created another Best Picture nomination and provided one of the highlights of James Franco’s already stellar career, making a basic concept anything but base entertainment.
Based on a true story, rock climber, Aron Ralston (James Franco), takes to his favorite weekend getaway, Robbers Roost in Utah. His weekend starts off well: he bikes for 17 miles, taking a tumble he laughs off, and even meets some friendly hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), whom he takes to his favorite swimming hole. But the mood abruptly changes when Ralston falls down a cavern.
The fall isn’t so bad, but the boulder that crushes his hand and renders him immobile is a bit of a challenge. Ever wonder if a film can survive with such a simple premise and in one location? Boyle and Franco successfully show us what that looks like as our protagonist tries his hardest to escape before the elements and thirst kill him. But the film doesn’t settle for the limits of reality, as we’re taken into the mind of a desperate man as he relives (sometimes very literally) key moments in his life and begins to go insane, confusing reality with a number of hallucinations.
Danny Boyle is an expert in the obscure. Even his attempt at romantic comedy (“A Life Less Ordinary”) had to be about a thief and a hostage falling in love due to the influence of two Cupid angels about to get booted from heaven. His same love for the odd functions well during Ralston’s fantasies as he imagines himself in better places or as host of his own morning talk show.
The film editing even has some fun with the concept as a dramatic zoom out retraces Ralston’s journey all the way back to the bed of his truck where an unused Gatorade develops perspiration rather than quenching our dehydrated outdoorsman’s thirst.
You may have heard some disturbing rumors about people fainting or becoming lightheaded during prescreenings of the film, and, well, there’s certainly cause for such a response, but the famous self-amputation scene isn’t nearly as bad as half the horror movies out there (no, not just the latest wave of gore-ography but plenty of other horrific moments over the past 15 years). Hopefully, this one won’t be remembered for one rather intense scene that truly will take you into the mental and, in some ways, physical psyche of a man in his most desperate moment. The film is so much more than one scene. It’s a story worth telling even if you feel the need to close your eyes during the climax.
This is the inspirational film no sports movie can touch. But when you’ve got something about life or death, trying to catch a Hail Mary for the win just comes across as fickle. Ralston is an individual who learns how important it is to have people in his life. Basic enough, but such a realization is all too clear when you’re hand is stuck under a rock and no one knows where you are.
His cries for help ring with the double meaning of a man presently in trouble and someone who doesn’t appreciate the people who’ve tried to be and remain close to him, replacing human interactions with nature walks, rather than allowing others to enjoy the world with him.
If weekend trips to Zion or physical activities in general are your things, then “127 Hours” just might prove to be the cautionary tale you need. But even if you’re not one for the outdoors or sports life (guilty as charged), this film still has the acting and originality of story to keep interest high and help you get through the more jarring moments.
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