Monday, November 29, 2010

127 Hours (2010) – Review

127 Hours is intense, moving and surprisingly funny. For a film that mostly takes place in a claustrophobic isolated canyon with only one character, director Danny Boyle really brings to life the emotion and journey that this man went through – the highs and lows, panic and euphoria. The fact that it is a true story leaves the film feeling more relatable, uplifting and inspirational – but this is mainly due to the direct, no punches pulled approach that Boyle takes – he shows everything. The structure of the film is interlaced with hallucinations blurring reality and fiction, yet capturing the emotional transformations of the character well. Essentially, here is a man who more or less is faced with a situation, completely alone, in which he will likely die – he tries to escape, he imagines he has, he accepts his own fate, and then takes it to the extreme to live. Boyle’s directorial style also plays a large role in the film. It is manic – a barrage of images and sounds, disorienting and flooding the audience with reactions. The juxtaposition of the title sequence (images of crowds) to the complete isolation that follows is interesting, as the crowds feel quite overwhelming and the desolate location of Blue John Canyon feeling calm and warm (also due to the bright color palate that Boyle uses in this section of the film), and even inviting. The prologue going from the titles until the accident is quite long, but works well to set up the character of Aron Ralston – his quirks and resourcefulness. This extended prologue works well in establishing a connection between the audience and Ralston. The viewer cares about him and likes him, which makes what happens later all the more impactful. Plus, his interaction with the two hikers he comes across starts the film on such a high, perfectly setting up the impending crash and dire situation. The prologue is a lot of fun and one of the best sequences of the year. It also sets up the humor in the film, which with many other actors and directors would be nonexistent. The humor is maybe the most important ingredient in what makes this a great film. It pulls the audience in, breaks the tension and makes Ralston all the more likable. However, Boyle’s style and structure may not translate for all viewers. The emotional journey is both direct, fact based (i.e. we see Ralston getting noticeable paler and physically ill as time passes) and abstract. And again, most of the film takes place in one small location. The transcendent nature of the hallucinations (used to convey the dreams, desires and so on of Ralston) makes them somewhat cryptic, which may disconnect some audience members emotionally. And without the emotional connection, the film will not work nearly as well. This is a film that relies on the audience participating in the struggle, completely engaged. It is a bombardment of noise, imagery (some graphic), humor, excitement, panic, extreme seclusion and a crushing sensation, terror, joy, escape – all coming almost at the same time – a visceral experience. 127 Hours really is (despite the clichéd marketing line) an emotional thrill-ride (or if you prefer rollercoaster).

Aesthetic and acting achievements: Boyle continues to make excellent films across the spectrum of genres. And once again, he and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy craft a fine film. This feels like a Danny Boyle film, from the banging techno infused soundtrack to the digital photography and stylistic choices that beset the audience. He is certainly among today’s best auteur directors. A.R. Rahman’s score plays an essential part in the emotional stimulation of the audience. It is almost overwhelming (and perfect for the film). Master of digital photography Anthony Dod Mantle delivers some more fine work as well with additional photography from Enrique Chediak. Suttirat Anne Larlarb’s production design takes advantage of the contrast of the hallucinations and the claustrophobic canyon Ralston is stuck in. The film, however, belongs to the performance of James Franco. He is brilliant, engaging and the life of the story (and one of the best performances of the year, up there with Claire Danes in Temple Grandin). While this is really a one actor show, Clemence Poesy, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn are good in their small roles.

127 Hours is an event film, as there are not too many films that can fully engage the full spectrum of emotions as artfully and forcefully as this one. 9/10

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