REVIEW: ‘127 Hours’

Grade: A-


The scene works. In fact, it not only works, it is spectacular. It is very brief, and many may find it underwhelming, considering the hype surrounding it (several people have fainted). But the plain fact is that the scene is emotionally, conceptually, and intensely executed. Director Danny Boyle does not downplay the significance of removing one’s limb; although he certainly doesn’t exploit it either. It is a powerful moment in the film as it was a powerful moment in the life of Aron Ralston.

But more important than the one scene we all know, the question mark that rested on the rest of the film is answered quite satisfactorily. As we all know, 127 Hours tells the real life story of Aron Ralston, that hiker that cut his arm off (after a boulder fell on it) to survive a few years back. Obviously, the scene in which the cut takes place is very dramatic; but going in I had concerns about how the remainder of the runtime would be occupied. I was concerned that the film would build off of cliché ideals about the wrongs of his lifestyle and try a little too hard to pull out emotional reactions. The film does analyze the wrongs of his lifestyle, but it does it well and in small doses. Aron Ralston does consider this to be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him, so it’s reasonable to assert this moral.

I had read that the film uses hallucinations to fill a lot of the runtime, and it does, but they are nothing like I had imagined. The film interactively weaves the past with the present, the hallucinations with reality, and the insanity with the sanity. The visions include everything from interactions with his ex-girlfriend, memories of his family, a giant blow-up Scooby-doo, and premonitions of the future. It is bizarre, but if there is one director capable of keeping all of this grounded in reality, it is Danny Boyle. His visual style is well suited to the double dose of cinematography and the eccentric landscape of Utah… and dreamy hallucinations of Scooby-doo.

Other than hallucinations, the movie is very focused Aron’s little world. It is very systematic, we get to know all of his little patterns, every little thing he tries, and of course, his video logs. We get very acquainted with the quirks of his personality, most notably his optimism and cockiness. This is the most alarming addition to the film for me. These video logs and the thorough exposure the audience is given to Ralston allow for his unique personality to thrive on screen. Consequently, the movie is very, very funny.

It is in one of these video logs, one we got to see a bit of in the trailer, where we get to see Ralston mock interview himself. The scene is poignant, funny, introspective, and touching. It is unique, but not out of place and it shows off the talent of James Franco. But I guess the whole movie does that. This is a step forward for him. He took a step into the limelight with Pineapple Express, this is a step further into the realm of acting. Here is a serious role that puts him front and center and just lets him run wild. Ralston seems to be the kind of person who knows how to make the best of any situation, so it seems reasonable that he would find ways to entertain himself and entertain the people that would eventually watch his video log.

Because of this quirky optimism, the movie does right by emphasizing humor. I really liked the trailer for 127 Hours, but I feel like it sent the wrong message a little bit. The ads dramatically cue The Funeral by Band of Horses as Ralston apologizes to his family. While the movie does contain dramatic scenes such as this one, it does not apply much effort in showing Aron feeling sorry for himself or crying with regret. The emotional appeal of the film is not from tragedy, it is from adrenaline, thrill, and freedom. This is not a movie about changing your life; it is about continuing your life at all costs. There is no emotional monologue about being a better person because this isn’t a movie that needs that kind of exposition. Instead we have a moment of epiphany when Aron connects the dots and discovers that he put the rock on his own arm, so to speak. That moment is the defining one, and Boyle expresses it visually through series of images whose significance is finally clarified. I’m trying to describe it without spoiling it; this is kind of difficult. Just trust me, you need to see it.

When Ralston finally succeeds, the movie doesn’t even need to try to satisfy the viewer’s emotional expectations. The sense of freedom is self evident. Boyle’s imagery combined with A. R. Rahman’s fantastic score set something of an exhilarating tone.

How do you follow up the awards smash Slumdog Millionaire? Well, Boyle had interest in Ralston’s story previously, but Ralston wanted to do it via documentary. After a few years, settling down, getting married, having a child, and having no documentary produced, Ralston felt he could hand the project over. So how did Boyle follow his hit? By making the movie he’d always wanted to make. This is the first time Boyle has taken a screenwriting credit; this story clearly meant a lot to him. And I’d imagine it means even more to Ralston. The result of this sense of attachment is an incredibly honest and personal film.

The Bottom Line: This is an exhilarating but personal testament to the will to live; and it’s a pretty good movie too.

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  • Jose

    The editing and cinematography I felt were top notch.
    And I felt the mock interview was amazing, but hands down my favorite scene in the film was the blow up Scooby-Doo.

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