Directed by: Danny Boyle
Running Time: 1hr 35min
Through no fault of his own, Danny Boyle’s Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire arguably crossed over into Full Monty territory as critical and popular word-of-mouth spread. ‘You’ve got to see it Mum, it’s the feel good film of the year!’ and so on. Such a groundswell of adoration, however, seems to have had an effect on the filmmaker’s follow-up, 127 Hours. It’s a brilliant film by any standards, but one from the same visual and emotional stock as Millionaire, and maybe a little less for it. But only a little.
The story of climber/adventurer/slightly smug (pre-accident) jerk-off Aron Ralston – portrayed by the Internet’s James Franco – and his ordeal in the Blue John Canyon desert of Utah after his right arm was crushed by a boulder, trapping him in a hell-cave. It’s no great spoiler to reveal that, after a little over five days, Aron chose life and amputated his own arm below the elbow with a dull blade.
Although a gruesome and unimaginable eventuality, escape was a happy ending of sorts for Ralston, which is what may have drawn Boyle to the story in the first place. The 54 year-old Mancunian has always gravitated towards his own version of cheery resolution; The crew are dead but planet Earth has been saved in Sunshine, Britain has been reduced to a pile of flaming guts but our heroes survived in 28 Days Later, Renton betrayed everybody but got away, and even Spud got a few quid in Trainspotting. Similarly, you’d have to be a cold soul to not have your neck hairs quivering by the time this film’s final Sigur Ros coated 10 minutes kicks in, as freshly mono-armed Aron staggers, crawls and screams his way to rescue. It’s simply wonderful. As with many scenes in the second half of the film, Boyle uses Ralston’s increasingly weary and hallucinogenic state to heighten the emotional impact the ordeal had on his life and perceptions. Beautiful, moving scenes they are indeed, but also familiar in tone to those from Jamal’s ambient flashbacks of reflection in Slumdog. In fact, the ordeals in 127 Hours and Slumdog run almost parallel, with the trauma used as opportunity to dissect and analyse the life that came before.
What cannot be debated is Boyle’s ever growing skill at engaging and exciting an audience, weaving Ralston’s past, present and even future from scene to scene with his supreme, unique brand of bewitching alchemy. And all those moments, as well as those planted in the horrible reality, are sold by a wholly convincing performance from Franco. From the soundless first moments after the fall as his brain and body soak in the reality of what has just happened, to the Gollum-esque conversations with different aspects of his personality, the entire film rests on his shoulders and he proves himself a strong enough actor to handle that weight and then some.
Then, of course, there’s much talked-about amputation scene. Yeah, gross.