Boyle and Franco want to make you wince.
Image: Warner Bros.127 Hours has been promoted and discussed as an endurance contest of a movie, with reports of people fainting and vomiting during US screenings. As always, it’s best to take these things with a pinch of salt, but rest assured that 127 Hours is not an easy watch.
The film tells the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), who found himself with his arm caught under a boulder while exploring the canyons of Utah. No one knows where he is, and with his water running out, Aron is forced to contemplate drastic measures.
Danny Boyle has followed Slumdog Millionaire, an overrated but undeniably enjoyable crowd-pleaser, with this gruelling piece of work. 127 Hours has the director’s fingerprints all over it. Boyle has never been one to shy away from bold editing and cinematography, and this is no different. Frequent use of split-screen lets us into Aron’s thought processes, emphasising the hectic rat race of week-day nine to five before rewarding us with the stunning Utah scenery. When Aron becomes trapped, Boyle bombards the viewer with quickly cut and vividly coloured flashbacks and fantasies. Every now and again these touches don’t work, but more often than not they come together perfectly. Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera work is stunning, and shockingly effective at showing us the preciousness of what little water Aron has left.
It’s certainly a tough movie to sit through, and the much-talked-about scene in which Aron is faced with a horrific decision is one of the most upsetting sequences in any new release for a long while. Boyle shows us just enough to make it very clear how horrific the situation is, but a lot of its effectiveness comes from close-ups of Aron’s face.
All of this would be for nothing with the wrong actor in the lead. Franco has been all over the place recently with his well-publicised image as a Renaissance man and experimental artist making for a strangely fascinating addition to his day-job (check out his guest arc on US soap General Hospital). He gives quite possibly a career-best performance here, as his character goes veering from upbeat confidence to the depths of despair. At the same time, we see the fascinating resilience of a man who refuses to panic, refuses to give up, even as he realises that, in all likelihood, he won’t make it out alive. As he looks back over his life, how he treated his parents and his ex (the suitably luminous Clémence Poésy), he realises that, in choosing a life of solitude, he has treated the people who love him very badly. As the Oscar race heats up, Franco should certainly be looking at an Oscar nomination, if not the award itself.
It might not be a perfect film, but 127 Hours is an excellent piece of work with Boyle on top form and a superb central performance. Catch this at the cinema.
Tough but uplifting, brutal but beautiful. Franco and Boyle have made an excellent film.