Seeing as how I’m a great admirer of director Danny Boyle, I was pretty excited at what he would bring to the screen in “127 Hours,” the true-life story of Aron Ralston a rock climber who made major WTF-style headlines about 6 years ago. You remember Ralston, right? He was the guy who got himself trapped in a ravine by a rock that had fallen on his hand and he somehow managed to cut his own arm off to escape and survive to tell the tale. The whole story was too crazy and amazing to not explode and soon people at parties, bars and social situations were telling variations on “did you hear about that dude who cut his own arm off in order to escape from a climbing accident?!” So how can one make a movie of this event, which is essentially a guy, stuck in a hole, for 127 hours? Danny Boyle gives it a heckuva try but by the time the credits rolled, I was somewhat moved but mostly felt like I had seen exactly what I paid for and not much else.
In the film, Ralston is portrayed by James Franco as a crazed, nature-obsessed wildman who sets off in the dead of night to spend a weekend biking, hiking, swimming and spelunking. He’s ultra-confident but also arrogant and runs, doesn’t walk, everywhere he goes. He feels he’s so great at being a canyoneer that he doesn’t need to tell anyone where he’s going or when he’s coming home. This comes back to bite him later as he slips into a desolate ravine and a rock manages to smash and hold his arm perfectly in place as he’s a good 50-plus feet below surface and 40-plus miles from civilization. Extremely low on food and water and possessing only the bare essentials, Ralston has only a cheaply made leatherman (one of those knife/pliers gadgets) to try and free himself. As time marches on Ralston starts to recognize how dire his situation is becoming and he flashes back on his self-centered life as well as on every cool refreshing drink he’s ever had. As was said in regards to Warren Zevon in a tribute album mourning his death, “Enjoy Every Sandwich” because you never know which one will be your last.
“127 Hours” is a really good film, but I never got the feeling that it was truly great. Boyle deserves kudos for taking on what I’m sure was a story deemed “unfilmable” and Franco has the personality and chops to really bring Ralston to life. Yet we never truly see what makes Ralston so selfish as he labels himself during his desperate days of struggle. There are woozy, sharply lit flashbacks that give a taste of what kind of guy he is, but frankly, he just seems pretty dull rather than some kind of anti-social creep. The other issue that kept popping up was the fact that pretty much everyone knows what’s going to happen to him and word on the street has leaked to the point where anyone paying attention knows Boyle shows the arm removal process in detail. And he does. And it’s really intense and gross. But it hangs like a spectre over the whole film and as a result I kept tuning out of Ralston’s plight wondering when the gore would unfold.
Boyle finds a way to mix things up visually and chooses to do so by showing items from the inside. For instance, there’s a “canteen cam” that shows Ralston’s water-bottle from the inside and at other points, he literally takes us inside the digital video camera Ralston is using to document his apparent final days. Obviously when Ralston isn’t fruitlessly trying to escape from his hole, we’re taken inside his mind where we meet his mom, dad, sister and a former girlfriend who he apparently treated badly. There’s other interesting “inside” shots as well but I’ll leave those for you to discover.
As I said, I think “127 Hours” is a good film and I found myself surprisingly moved by the end. If the story sounds intriguing to you but you’re on the fence about seeing it, you should go. But having seen every film Boyle has ever done, I expected a little more and was slightly let down. “127 Hours” is better than “Sunshine” and “The Beach” but nowhere near as good as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “28 Days Later” or “Trainspotting” but the effort here is fairly Herculean and for that, it’s a worthy film. I was just left wanting a little bit more.