Film Review: 127 Hours (2011)

on Friday, January 07, 2011
Words: Alicia McBride

'127 Hours' (UK Release: 5 Jan '11)

Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James Franco, Clemence Poesy, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn

After the incredible success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' all eyes were on Danny Boyle to see what he would do next. Always one to take a turn into the unexpected, Boyle chose to adapt Aron Ralston’s fantastically titled biography 'Between A Rock And A Hard Place' for the big screen. For the uninitiated, this is a tale about a man (James Franco) who falls into a canyon, trapping his arm between the canyon wall and a boulder. The film brings to life the 127 hours Ralston spent down there and the gory lengths he went to to survive and finally escape.

Unfortunately, the film does not trust Ralston’s time in the canyon to make an engaging enough story on its own. Instead, Boyle has employed gimmicky camerawork - reminiscent of amateur surf or skate videos - and some very questionable flashbacks/premonitions to try and pique the audience’s interest. Ultimately, these break the tension and detract from Ralston’s experience.

Anyone who’s seen last year’s gripping 'Buried' will know that horrible, claustrophobic conditions provide plenty of entertainment all on their own. The flashbacks are used to engage the audience emotionally but are full of predictable scripting and a woefully lacklustre performance from the usually awesome Clemence Poesy.

The music used in the film is intrusive and often misjudged: the use of Bill Withers’ 'Lovely Day' was no doubt chosen to soundtrack Ralston’s desperate attempts to escape because the paradox seems humorous yet it feels like the track trivialises the situation and Ralston isn’t in on the joke. He can take the piss out of himself and his misfortune all he wants but no one else should be able to.

Negatives aside, there are some good things about this film (lots of naked people dancing to Plastic Bertrand’s 'Ca Plane Pour Moi' being a particular highlight) forefront of which is James Franco’s performance. He is utterly believable, from the self-assured swagger he begins the films with to the humbled, frightened man who knows what he has to do to free himself but can’t quite bring himself to do it. Franco encapsulates every little emotion with skill and is mesmerising to watch. His conversations with himself in the canyon are funny and heartbreaking, making him very likeable.

The other highlight of the film is, of course, the arm-sawing scene. Everyone knows it is the most anticipated scene of the film and it is built up to quite spectacularly. Here the sound is used in perfect sync with the image to suggest just how painful and sickening sawing your own arm off is and I’m sure it’ll be one of the most talked about scenes of the year. The film is also very beautiful thanks largely to Franco and the landscape although I’m not sure Boyle can take credit for that.

The film’s failings are ultimately down to a seemingly obsessive need to control how you feel. In the film Ralston begins by videotaping apologies to his parents for not being an attentive son, which is as emotional as it needs to be, but as the film progresses and his mental state deteriorates he begins to imagine them there with him alongside other family members. It is overly-schmaltzy and when coupled with a soundtrack that is so obviously signalling that you should Feel Emotion Now it is the direction that begins to feel claustrophobic, not the canyon. This aside, the film is still worth seeing for the arm alone and for just how incredible the human will to survive is when there seems to be no hope.


'127 Hours' is out on wide release throughout the UK now.

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