If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Danny Boyle of, it’s of being predictable. He’s done all sorts of genres and transformed his subjects into successes, both commercially and filmically. His last feature Slumdog Millionaire even won him Oscars, no mean feat for a British director. His latest, 127 Hours, is just as unpredictable but its claustrophobic atmosphere doesn’t deter away from the sheer power and horror of what happens.
It’s the true story of self-styled action man Aron Ralston (James Franco) who gets trapped in a canyon after having an accident. The thing is, he hasn’t told a single soul where he’s disappeared to, so he’s stuck in the middle of a barren wasteland with no-one to help him and an arm that’s dying from being crushed under a boulder. Through the days he spends trapped he has flashbacks of his life and visions of what could be before finally deciding he can’t take any more.
Let’s get one thing straight here: the fact that Ralston cuts his own arm off with a pen knife is only a small part of what is a brilliant movie. Slowly this develops into a tale of emotionality and above all regret as Ralston realises what a fool he has been, and reflects on how he’s neglected his family and his friends (including Clemence Poesy as his ex-girlfriend). Boyle’s editing and camerawork isn’t for everyone but here it combines brilliantly to create an atmosphere of claustrophobia that also somehow makes you feel closer and more emotionally involved in Ralston’s struggle against his feelings and the gradual shutdown of his body. Somehow Boyle makes the chipping away of a few pebbles and the journey of an ant seem intriguing and engaging rather than just boring.
But the real star of this movie is James Franco, who carries pretty much the whole film by himself. Sure, there are moments where other characters come into frame but mostly it’s just you and him down in that crevasse with nothing but the ants and a handy cam for company. Indeed, his almost schizophrenic performance as he goes through a whole wave of emotions and scenarios in his own mind before acting out what it would be like to go on morning TV is brilliant: he’ll probably (probably, I’ll stress that) get an Oscar nomination. Then lose out to Colin Firth. But it doesn’t matter because what Franco achieves here is brilliant. Nearly all of the movie is a one-man show and that’s a hard thing to pull off. With some help from Boyle’s trickery he pulls it off with panache.
Also in the running for an Oscar this year will be AH Rahman who conducted the score for 127 Hours. He worked on Slumdog Millionaire and here creates a soundtrack that covers a wide range of emotions – strangely the most disturbing thing about the amputation scene is the music that accompanies it, not the act itself. Rahman does a good well to achieve this. But he’ll lose out to Trent Reznor and The Social Network soundtrack. Although, Reznor’s music was the best this year. Hands down.
Verdict: Much more than a guy chopping his arm off. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good such a narrow plot can be. And you’ll be angry at how stupid a man can get.
8 OUT OF 10