Wednesday, December 8, 2010

127 Hours (2010)


A truly engrossing and visceral cinematic experience can be marred by any number of things. It can be marred by a couple, whom having already opted to sit in the front row, leaving fifteen minutes in, when their alcohol runs out. It can be marred by a lady off in the back of the theater incessantly offering unnecessary narration. Or it can be marred by the most untimely of intrusions - a fellow audience member's stomach rumbling, during the film's most critical and emotional sequence, at about a three on the Richter scale. Did all three of these things happen this past Saturday as I traveled out to see 127 Hours? Yes. Did they remove me entirely from the experience? Deprive me of the chance to truly appreciate Danny Boyle's directing or James Franco's acting? No. I am pleased to say, that when push came to shove, Boyle and Franco trumped them all.

Danny Boyle's 2010 cinematic look at one man's effort to overcome adversity is one of the most gripping visual experiences of the year. With countering fixed shots on Aron Rolston with the binding rock, and sweeping shots of the beautiful Colorado landscape, Boyle forces upon the viewer concurrent feelings of claustrophobia and isolation. Never assuming, always intruding, the feelings come to a boiling point as the viewer must wrestle the thin line between reality and hallucination. A world were fantasy is your only freedom, and in reality exists your only escape.

Navigating these frames of mind is James Franco as our protagonist, Aron Ralston. Forced with ever changing, often conflicting emotions, Franco is perfect as the audience's mediator into the mindset of Ralston. A man of high energy, quick thinking, and offbeat charm, suddenly forced into a situation where none of those values matter. Franco's darting eyes, constant upbeat tone, and even keel, offers the viewer an element of depth without needing to spell out every moment. As Ralston's mind begins to fade in and out of reality, Franco is there to maintain the illusion of being level-headed, keeping what could be seen as hokey firmly grounded in the realm of visual character study.

Sometimes even the simplest memories can save you

Danny Boyle brilliantly paces 127 Hours at 94 minutes. The film never drags, seemingly always on the move even though its main character is static. In part this is a testament to Boyle's brilliance in the use of music and sporadic high-pace cutting. Another contributing factor lay at the brilliant hands of A.R. Rahman for creating such fluid and beautiful music. Though the real hero of this is the know-how of Boyle and co-writer Simon Beaufoy for siphoning out any scene that delivers nothing for the viewer, leaving only a series of equally intense and insightful moments for the to become wrapped up in.

The best example of this lies in the infamous 'cutting' scene. While most other directors would make a huge deal about it with blaring music, a series of slow motion cuts, and an elongated build up - Boyle plays it straight. A few shots are there for reaction and surrounding, but it's the raw intensity of the moment Boyle seeks to capture. Audiences squirm and faint not because of the heightened violence of it, but because in that moment we feel what Ralston feels, what Franco delivers, and what Boyle captures. The entire film is the build up, when it comes time for the scene Boyle and company dive head first.

During the beginning, Boyle's multi-panel shots, and hard cuts, forced me out of scenes just as I was becoming enveloped in them. I felt as if the movie was making me to fight my way to be apart of it. As the film progresses Boyle becomes more aware of the intimacy in a shot as constricting as a head, the top of a boulder, and a wall. This, in turn, allows the audience to tap into the inner compassion they possess for witnessing the struggle of another human being. Much in the same way United 93 grabbed emotional cords despite pre-knowledge of the inevitable ending, 127 Hours consumes the audience into its world, blocking out our desire to concentrate on what we know, and instead live only in what we see - the defining marker of any great film.

Film Credits:
Directed By: Danny Boyle
Written By: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Based on the Autobiography By: Aron Ralston

So, what did you think of 127 Hours? Do you think it has viable Oscar chances? Or are you afraid of the inevitable arm scene to give it a go?

10 better thoughts:

The Mad Hatter said...

First of all - great review. It's really well written and tells me what you saw and how you saw it. Bravo!

Second, as I think is very well known by now, I love this film a lot for every reason you detailed. Boyle took what should have been a Lifetife Network Movie of the Week and gave it breath, scope, and true energy - no small feat.

As for its Oscar chances, it's hard to say. Franco will be in the mix for best actor, but it's too early to call him for a win. At the moment it feels like it'll be a bit of a fight for the film to make it to the Best Picture race, and once there could easily be overpowered by the TOY STORY/SOCIAL NETWORK/KING'S SPEECH horserace.

Pity we don't get a vote!

Castor said...

Wonderfully written review Univarn. We obviously have most of the same thoughts on the movie so there isn't really much I can add ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Haven't seen it, but I'm willing to give anything except torture porn a try.
And I've had disruptive movie experiences like you described. Event Horizon's viewing was the weirdest - I'd swear the mental institution dumped its people off at the theater that day.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Awesome, Im always excited to see the next Danny Boyle film. Rarely does he dissapoint. I was not a big fan of Slumdog Millionaire but I've loved everything else he has done before that, so Im looking forward to this one, by the looks of your review it should be an intense experience.

Univarn said...

@Mad Thank you. I'm trying to put more effort into writing and formulating my reviews. Up until now it's been very much a 'sit down and just write whatever comes to mind' approach. Hoping this makes my posts more fluid and coherent. Going back and reading some of my older reviews I was flabbergasted by the sheer randomness, borderline unintelligible, nature of a few of them. Though I find it's a lot easier for me to do it for something like this as opposed to the film I'm reviewing tomorrow where apathy for certain elements comes into play.

@Castor Thanks, and most definitely I agree.

@AlexJ To be fair lots of people in mental institutions who watched Event Horizon walked away thinking "what's the big deal, seemed perfectly normal to me?"

- I would just like to apologize for the aforementioned joke, it was in bad taste and I know that's a painful gross generalization.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Hatter and Castor, your review gets an A from me. To answer your last question in your post, the answer is YES. I might still check it out on rental as I don't think I can handle the scene in the theater (I take all the news about people passing out as a warning).

Univarn said...

@FilmConnoisseur: Boyle does a good job of making this intense without it being overbearing. There's a few sight gags, flashbacks, and hallucinations which really keep you involved in the character.

@flixchatter: Thank you very much. I think being in the dark theater environment without the pause or off button to run to helps the movie a lot. Especially without the fast forward button :P. By the way, the scene isn't that graphic - I think Mad was saying the 'passing out' might be more myth than accurate.

Candice Frederick said...

i really think this movie was better than Slumdog in so many ways, except the story--which i thought lulled in the middle. the direction was incredible though. and franco's acting was superb.

Brittani Burnham said...

GREAT review! I really want to see this, and you just made me want to see it even more.

This movie needs to get to my area, fast.

Anna said...

Check out IAMROGUE.COM 's interview with Danny Boyle about 127 hours. You gonna see it?

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