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127 Hours

127 Hours seems an ask upon ascertaining the story basics, but it’s a film that transcends the grim facts, that of Aron Ralston falling into a cave with an arm-pinning boulder following suit. It becomes a hymn to life, individuality, family. It’s an exultant film and, blood-spattered escape aside, is way more feelgood than whatever recycled dribble this month’s rom-com is peddling.

James Franco (put your money down for an Oscar nomination but remember, Firth is playing royalty) plays Ralston as an indefatigably pumped outdoors dude who heads off into Robber’s Roost for some serious mountaineering. He’s a heel-bouncing sprite (dervish?) of a man with an overspill of energy in want of adrenalised kicks, and he’s infectious. He crosses paths with two initially cagey women out cave-hunting but effortlessly extinguishes any doubts they might have and soon has them plunging through darkness into cave pools. Upon the parting of their ways they invite him to a house party: an affirmative later and he’s off, bounding towards the next win.

Shortly thereafter the aforementioned disaster precludes any further advancement and he, and you, are stuck for a considerable duration dangling amid a rock fissure. Various potential exit routes bear predictable levels of success (a dull penknife scraping away at boulder mass; Ralston’s free-arm pummelling at the rock for a bit of give; a flash-flood enabling a timely and relatively effortless escape being of delusional magnitude) and he begins to hallucinate, run out of water, self-admonish and ‘make his peace’, all the while undergoing various states of retrogression and re-evaluation. He reminisces about a failed relationship his solitary nature may have done for. He recalls childhood idyll. He experiences blissful premonitions. He realises, in the end, that his desire to live will eclipse notions of the unthinkable becoming impossible.

Danny Boyle and James Franco do such a skilful job of making you complicit in Ralston’s plight, you endure the severing-obligation and will every agonising second onward towards what feels like, in more ways than one, a rebirth. Boyle deserves credit for not only confronting such a potentially tricky set of problems but for improbably and triumphantly playing the film for laughs at well chosen moments and fashioning something compulsive, compelling and involving from such constraining elements. Consider the facts – man trapped in hole for five days until eventual bloody reprieve – and Boyle has cleverly managed to offer up a pretty unconventional solution that’s defiantly entertaining.

And James Franco gives a vital and superb performance here: the role demands a likeable actor but is also a seriously daunting proposition. The material offers little apparent opportunity with which to evoke easy responses and delineate moments of recognition and empathy. But for Franco’s brilliant, subtle, funny job the slow devastation of Ralston’s plight would doubtless have been less involving and certainly of less consequence. In turn, the film might well have been a curious, intriguing sidestep for Boyle, an admirable footnote. As it is, it may be his best work.

There is a sense of loss prompted by the film – that the hellish prelude to Ralston’s eventual release re-invested his life with spurned meaning, a meaning that only a serious reality-check and intimacy with the grim reaper could reignite. In turn, Boyle seems to say: this is how far we have languished. Or is he saying, ‘We merely need a perilously-near disaster to remind us of what we have’ and so on? Hard to say. But this is an ecstatic and anti-existentialist cocked snook to be sure.

And don’t let that scene dissuade you from 127 Hours: it’s horrific enough (they do extraordinary things these days with fake latex arms etc) but, when the time comes, you will be willing Franco to lop it off and reclaim his life. An enrapturing film that’s as much about impending, urgent life as it is imminent death.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. mary gilbert
    January 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Great review Lee and this is one I definitely want to see though I might just rest my eyes at that bit ( would like to underline or italicise `that’ but not sure how to do this on new laptop). My daughter’s boyfriend fainted when they watched the film at home recently – very dramatic – she thought he’d died and couldn’t remember the recovery position – so all those stories about cinema goers passing out are almost certainly true. I was never that keen on Slumdog Millionaire which I thought was over hyped but Trainspotting retains a special place for me. I saw The King’s Speech at Xmas on a Bafta copy ( I have powerful friends…..). Colin Firth indeed makes a good job of royalty (italics) as you say and is far better looking than George VIth so will almost certainly get an Oscar. My housebound aunt held viewings of the film in her front room for pensioner friends and it went down very well. I’m Hoping The Social Network will rerun here minus dubbing as we missed it first time around and then I can post a reply to your review. Good films being in short supply here at the moment I’m revelling in Mad Men 2

  2. January 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Cheers Mary. It is a pretty gruelling sequence but I suppose it has to be to avoid compromising the film. Seriously, I’m guessing that by that point you’ll be kind of wincingly advocating the move…

    I’ve heard a few ‘fainting’ stories and I can’t say I’m that surprised. A friend saw one in Sheffield and another in Manchester: clearly, this is a film not to be half-heartedly approached! I have an uncle who refused to go to work or make the car journey home for two days after watching The Exorcist way back when and stayed cowering at his mother’s but we’re not quite in such territory here…I’m assuming…

    I enjoyed Slumdog but have no desire to watch it again, unlike Trainspotting or Sunshine. 127 Hours could be better than either.

    Oh yes, Firth will win. I’m going to nip over to William Hill’s way before the announcements and make the safest punt I have to date!

    You must watch The Social Network in its true guise – dubbed versions are very strange indeed. I watched a dubbed The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo recently and it was an odd experience, totally flattened by the workaday script-readings.

    Hey, if you’ve got Mad Men on the go you’ve got it made! It will tide you over!

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