127 Hours Review
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With most directors, you pretty much know what to expect before you walk into the theater. Christopher Nolan, for instance, will give you twisted and tangled action and suspense. With Quentin Tarantino, you’ll get hip, rambling dialogue and quirky bursts of over-the-top violence. But Danny Boyle…well, he’s a bit of a wild card. Throughout his career, he’s run the genre gamut, from junkie drama in Trainspotting to the family comedy of Millions—with a chick flick, some zombies, and plenty of science fiction mixed in. So it’s really no surprise that Boyle would follow up his Oscar-winning Bollywood drama, Slumdog Millionaire, with something completely different: the stripped-down, one-man adventure, 127 Hours.

In this real-life thriller, James Franco stars as Aron Ralston, an adventure-seeking loner who heads out on a weekend hiking trip in Utah. After spending the morning with a couple of hiker girls, he ventures off on his own to explore Bluejohn Canyon. But a fun Saturday afternoon hike quickly turns life-threatening when (just 15 minutes into the film) his arm is crushed beneath a boulder. Trapped in the canyon with dwindling supplies, he suddenly finds himself alone with his own thoughts as he contemplates his fate and reflects on the mistakes in his past.

What follows, then, is nearly 75 minutes of one guy stuck in one place, alternately struggling to stay alive and preparing for his own death (broken up by the occasional brief flashback). It probably doesn’t sound like an entertaining way to spend a Saturday night—but Boyle and Franco turn what could have been an excruciatingly dull and overwrought drama into a captivating story about a likeably flawed character.

Only a talented, well-rounded actor like Franco could handle such a demanding role—and he does so with verve, moving easily from heart-breaking drama to the occasional light-hearted comedy. He makes Aron a charming character—a goofy adrenaline junkie who’s forced to take a bizarre journey of self-discovery while he’s trapped alone in the canyon. Though it’s clear that Aron alone is to blame for his precarious situation, he’s not such an overtly self-centered character that you’ll hate him for it. Instead, you’ll actually like him—and his increasing self-awareness will make you care about him even more.

Meanwhile, despite the serious subject matter, Boyle manages to keep the film from feeling heavy and oppressive. In fact, Aron’s observations—and the ongoing commentary that he records on his video camera—tends to keep the tone somewhat relaxed. Though you’ll be fully aware of Aron’s grave situation, you’ll be both engrossed and entertained as the suspense builds.

Of course, 127 Hours isn’t always an easy-going film. It is, after all, still a film about a man struggling for survival in severe conditions. He has to resort to some pretty appalling things to stay alive. And if you know anything about Aron Ralston’s story, you already know that the end isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s arguably more gut-wrenchingly horrifying than any slasher flick you’ve ever seen—and the fact that the rest of the film is deceptively relaxed makes the conclusion all the more grueling.

Take a lesson from the viewers who passed out while screening the film at the Toronto Film Festival: if you can’t handle intense scenes of shockingly realistic carnage, don’t risk it. By all means, watch something less punishing. If, on the other hand, you have the intestinal fortitude—and you’re up for the challenge—this extreme movie-watching adventure is guaranteed to leave you breathless.

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