With a premise that seems more suited for a Ray Mears survival documentary Danny Boyle serves up his latest flick 127 Hours. Already hugely controversial, the film has managed to make countless audience members feel ever-so-slightly queasy after that scene. Not sure what we’re on about? Let us explain…
127 Hours follows the true story of activity-enthusiast Aron Ralston (played here superbly by James Franco – more on that later) after he falls victim to the unpredictable Utah landscape. When one of his many mountaineering expeditions goes badly wrong Ralston is left trapped in a secluded crevasse, his arm pinned by a weighty boulder. Not the usual fodder that would attract a Hollywood big-hitter like Danny Boyle you’d think. But, as with Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours isn’t your average Hollywood movie.
Fitting Ralston’s five day torment into a neat hour and half package, Boyle taps into the encroaching schizophrenic delusions endured by Ralston. After fruitless attempts to wriggle free we quite literally journey with Franco’s Ralston through hope, despair, desperation and everything in between. Franco’s tearful farewells to family, comedic Leno Show-esque breakdown and flitting memories prove the actor has show-stopping capabilities. Mix this with Boyle’s imaginative editing as well as some harrowingly realistic video recorded footage (the real Ralston similarly captured his plight) make for engaging viewing. Although noteworthy, it is not just the breathtaking mountainous landscape shots that astonish but, as with most Boyle films, the soundtrack impresses too. Leaping like a canyoneer from the bright tones of Bill Withers to distressing shrieking sounds, the music heightens the emotions conveyed by Franco.
The desolation of the piece as well as the physical realities suffered are palpable. After the crowd-filled opening scenes the solitude experienced by Ralston is dizzying. Left with nothing but a passing raven and fifteen minutes of sunlight a day it’s understandable that Ralston dipped his toe into insanity and the film catalogues the journey engrossingly. Having only packed enough food and water for a day’s trip, Ralston is soon daydreaming about Mountain Dew and alike and the thirst is catching. Note: pack a drink when watching this, you’ll need it, that way, if your surroundings crumble you won’t have to resort to drinking stale piss – take it from us, after the graphic piss-drinking scenes, you’ll thank us.
Despite the best intentions, with all the attention the film has got, you do find yourself a) waiting for the drop (there’s some near misses) and b) waiting for the hack – both come a little later than you may expect. Aron’s knives seem to be omnipresent, a fateful foreboding presence that subtly remind you that not all of Ralston escapes. With sleep deprivation, hunger and a killer thirst slowly killing him, and with no other alternative in sight, Ralston goes for broke and begins to hack away at his own arm. Even for viewers made of sterner stuff the sight is unsettling and, especially with the knowledge that in reality it took about fifteen times longer than Franco’s two minute stab-fest, imposes the awful reality experienced by the real Ralston.
Despite its stomach-turning moments 127 Hours, like all other Boyle films, is nonetheless life affirming. With its triumphant ending, although the whole ordeal may be enough to put anyone off canyoneering for a lifetime, though evidently not Ralston himself who continues to partake in such activities, the film reminds you of the good in the world and ultimately to choose life.
Best line: ‘No number twos as of yet’.
Best performance: James Franco
Best song: Bill Withers’s ‘Lovely Day’
Watch this if you liked: Other Boyle films including Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting.
The camcorder used in the film is in fact Aron Ralston’s.