127 Hours review

Versatile director Danny Boyle turns his hand to true-life survival drama in 127 Hours. Here’s Ryan’s review...

Frenetic, restless Danny Boyle. Whether he’s at the helm of a mid-90s movie about Edinburgh drug addicts or a deep space science fiction adventure, you can guarantee the story will be told in a rush of sound and images.

127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston, an active outdoors-type whose rock climbing outing was cut short one day when his arm became pinned beneath a falling boulder. Having spent more than five days stuck at the bottom of a Utah canyon with nothing more than a bottle of water and a blunt penknife for company, Ralston was forced to undertake extraordinarily painful measures in order to escape certain death.

Ralston’s resulting book of his experience, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, appears to give Boyle little scope for his typical fast edits and funky music. This is, after all, a film about one man stuck alone in a single location for pretty much its entirety.

And yet, as 127 Hours opens, we’re in familiar Boyle country. As Ralston, James Franco is an outgoing, fiercely confident young man who enjoys nothing more than getting away from the stresses of his family and job by heading out into the wilderness to climb a few cliffs. To thunderous music, Boyle intercuts images of bustling city life with the arid emptiness of Blue John Canyon.

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Few directors are as adept at capturing the carefree exuberance of youth as Boyle, and 127 Hours‘ first act, where Ralston enjoys the company of a pair of picturesque hitchhikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) provides a few moments’ scene-setting levity before the inevitable happens. Having said farewell to his two new friends, Ralston accidentally slips down to the bottom of a deserted canyon, where a boulder the size of a dustbin crushes his right arm.

For the rest of the movie, Ralston agonises, squirms and hallucinates, and Franco’s performance, like Ryan Reynolds’ in Buried, is superb. A lesser actor would have allowed their performance to slip into screaming melodrama, but Franco is restrained and sympathetic throughout.

Boyle, too, should be commended for making a potentially unwatchable premise relatively palatable for a broad audience. As grim as the film gets (and for any but the most battle-hardened horror addict, Ralston’s escape scene is particularly grim), Boyle’s film is one of triumph over adversity rather than an exercise in unsettling gloom.

There are moments, even in the depths of the canyon, of incidental beauty: a lone plane flying through the blue strip of sky visible from Ralston’s vantage point, perhaps, or the arresting sight of a phantom inflatable Scooby Doo.

At the same time, Boyle’s restless, showy directorial style occasionally threatens to undercut the film’s tension. Repeated flashbacks and dream sequences provide the audience with an escape route from Ralston’s ordeal, disrupting not only the film’s flow of time but also, on occasion, its palpable sense of loneliness.

Nevertheless, Boyle’s film is a committed, well-made examination of individual disaster and survival, and Franco’s performance is sure to gain some attention in the forthcoming Oscars.

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127 Hours is in UK cinemas from today, January 5th.

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4 out of 5