Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Poesy
Almost everybody knows the story of real life canyoneer, Aron Ralston, that 127 Hours recounts. I actually saw some documentary on TV about it years before this movie was made. Danny Boyle’s film isn’t about retelling the story though, it’s about showing the inner journey that Ralston goes through while trapped in that canyon, going above and beyond any documentary that focuses solely on the facts of the story.
Plot: This is the true story of Aron Ralston (Franco), an outdoorsman who frequently visits Blue John Canyon in southeastern Utah. On one of his outings, Ralston gets his hand trapped under a boulder in the canyon while climbing down. Having told no one where he was going and all alone, he must take drastic measures in order to survive. We witness all of his emotions and thoughts as he reflects about his past and relationships with family, friends, and other loved ones.
Boyle chooses the perfect direction for this movie. As I said before, most people who go in to this movie already know what Ralston has to do in order to get out of the canyon. Instead of going at this story from the viewpoint of focusing on what Ralston does to survive, we focus on what’s going on with Ralston on the inside. Documented by a camcorder, we see him go through an assortment of emotions ranging from anger to sadness and at times, complete delusion. This is one of Franco’s best performances as he portrays all of these things perfectly.
Considering probably 90% of this movie takes place in that tiny space in the canyon, it takes a very talented director and actor to keep things interesting. Boyle and Franco do it though. With a mix of several different camera angles, an assortment of stylized flashbacks of Ralston’s, and Franco’s compelling performance, things are kept at a very reasonable pace that keeps us hooked.
Boyle also incorporates the perfect soundtrack to accompany the movie, using what I would assume is Ralston’s favorite music during the flashbacks and silence as we observe Ralston trapped in the isolated canyon. The music seems out of place when used and I think this could be used to convey his extreme desperation of wanting to be out of the canyon and away from where he is. The silence obviously conveys his complete solitude and hopelessness of ever being discovered. The shots of the canyon are absolutely beautiful. There’s a scene near the beginning where Ralston looks out across the scenery and the camera pans over it. As we watch the scene we can’t help but wonder how such a peaceful and beautiful place can keep a man prisoner.
This next part is a bit of a spoiler if you don’t know the story so don’t read this paragraph if you don’t want to know the ending. The scene in which Ralston must amputate his own arm is meant to make you cringe. You can tell Boyle wants the audience to understand the mindset of this man as he comes to the point where he was willing to cut off his own arm in order to survive. Franco is amazing here, making you feel every second of it. The moment in which he succeeds and stumbles away from the boulder with a look of astonishment on his face is seriously a great moment in the movie. He just stares at the boulder for a moment, collecting his thoughts, and you can’t help but be in that moment with him. He is free at last, but at a great price.
Conclusion: Boyle doesn’t use the conventional way of telling this story and it certainly pays off. As a viewer, we feel like we are going through this journey with Ralston. James Franco is at his best here, showing he is very capable of pulling off drama as much as comedy. He captures all of the emotions that we imagine Ralston really felt and pulls us into the canyon with him. This film certainly is an emotional experience and despite the very dark tones in it, still manages to feel hopeful and uplifting in the end.