127 Hours: review

October 29, 2010 | 3 Comments

I’ve got this theory that actors love sole roles — films where the cast list pretty much has just their name on it.  It’s the chance they have to really impress with minimal risk. If they do screw up then people will inevitably blame the director or the script or some other entity and even if the actor gets some flak, it’ll blow over and they’ll soon be onto a new project while the director has ‘turkey’ scrawled all over his IMDB rating for ever and ever.  I’m pretty sure Duncan Jones and Sam Rockwell had this in mind when they teamed up for Moon but  whether Danny Boyle and James Franco had the “who get’s the blame?” chat for 127 Hours is a moot point. The film is excellent.

The story is well known. Back in 2003 Aron Ralston was canyoning in Utah by himself and hadn’t told anyone where he was going. A freak accident caused a boulder to trap his arm against a wall and he was faced with a choice: slowly starve to death or cut off his own limb. And after having seen Mr Ralston at last night’s premiere I can say that I haven’t seen see a man handle a metal claw with so much aplomb since Tee Hee roughed up Roger Moore in Live and Let Die.


Some directors, faced with such a paucity of dialogue opportunities, might choose to pad out the beginning of the film with all kinds of backstory flim-flam. But Boyle is cannier than most. He knows what this film is about and has the sheer confidence in his own abilities to cut straight to the chase — we get the boulder incident surprisingly early on after about 10 minutes. I was impressed. What Mr Boyle seemed to be saying was ‘I’ve hit plot point #1 immediately. The next 80 minutes I’ve filmed will be of one guy in a dingy crevasse with a rock . . . oh and by the way, he can’t even move more than a few inches so don’t go hoping for some nice filler shots of the stunning Utah landscape.  Are you still with me?’

All the way Danny, all the way . . . I murmured under my breath lest he heard me in the posh seats a few rows in front.

In Moon Rockwell at least had other versions of himself to play against and ‘converse’ with. Here James Franco (picked by the director on the strength of his performance in Pineapple Express according to Boyle in the pre-film speech) doesn’t even that luxury. But he handles it well. We are ineveitably faced with a series of dream sequences and flashbacks where Franco plays a man questioning his past selfishness superbly. The scene where he pretends he’s a caller to a chat show hosted by himself is pure genius — the dream dream sequence if you like. Another where he realises this rock has been “waiting for him his whole life”  is poignant and hard hitting but if there’s one small criticism it’s that overall I could have done with one or maybe two less of these flashback scenes.Aron Ralston

And what of the slicing? Well, the fact that the BBFC have at the time of writing given this film a 15 certificate belies the nature of the amputation scene (the film’s rating also says This work was passed with no cuts made. Boom and indeed boom). First of all it’s preceded by the snapping. There are two cracks . . is it the radius he does first or the ulna? I’m not sure, but not to worry, you’ll hear both and if you’re like the audience at the Odeon last night you can’t help but give out a little gasp/shriek. And I’m afraid to say Dear Reader, that it only gets worse from there on — remember he only had available a cheap blade from an imitation Leatherman which he’d already blunted in a futile effort to chisel away the boulder. As tough a watch as it is though, it is mecifully over relatively quickly and the moment where Franco pops free of his own arm and stares with a detached sort of bemusement at what’s left wedged against the canyon  is a wonderful moment and strangely uplifting.

The last ten minutes are concerned with the escape and we see Franco stumble through the desert with severed veins in a makeshift sling until he finds help. We get a postscript with Ralston himself now married and with child number #1 just arrived in February 2010. A man for whom life’s priorities have well and truly changed.

All in all a lovely story and injected into our collective consciousness by the master who gave us Trainspotting as only he knows — intravenously.


3 Comments so far

  1. andy on December 10, 2010 7:10 am

    Bottom pic, wrong arm. He amputated his right arm. I realize that the lay out would be weird if the photo were not transposed, but come on…

  2. pcoletti on December 10, 2010 11:45 pm

    You’re right. Aron lost his riight arm.

    This highlights the dangers of grabbing pictures off the net whose provenance is shady!

  3. Joe on January 13, 2011 4:20 pm

    Actually guys, that photo is not from the film, but an inverted picture that Aron took himself. It couldn’t be more accurate.

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