And with that rock solid theme underlying the brutally desperate true story of 127 Hours, Danny Boyle has done it again.
Based on Ralston’s autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 127 Hours tells the story of thrill seeker Ralston who set out one Saturday night to go hiking places no man has gone before – without telling anyone where he was going. Big mistake.
We immediately see the glee and reckless abandon ‘Ralston’ applies to his hobby. The way he bikes across the terrain. The verve he displays when he stumbles upon two cute co-eds and shows them the time of their lives. The smile. The twinkle in his eye. So, by the time he wedges himself in a gaping crevice, bringing a boulder tumbling down after him, pinning his right arm against the crevice wall, it all happens so fast we are left as dumbstruck as he is.
Boyle is really masterful. It was obvious way back in the day when Trainspotting (1994) burst on to the scene, that he was special. Then, winning the Oscar for Direction for the extraordinarily fresh and uplifting Slumdog Millionaire (2008) confirmed his brilliance. Here he uses split screen imagery, multiple digital formats, alternating speeds and time lapses, inter cutting dream sequences with flashbacks and flash forwards, all accompanied by fresh and inspired musical tracks – 127 Hours is a true work of art. And boy did he score getting James Franco to sign on for what must have been an incredibly grueling and challenging production.
Franco, who most recently received…mixed reviews (?) for his co-hosting assignment at the Academy Awards (I actually thought he was both charming and funny as heck, but…), is a rare bird indeed. Not only is Franco, 32, presently starring on the long running daytime soap opera General Hospital as the mysterious and lecherous ‘Franco’ – according to his latest stint hosting SNL, he pulls “idea slips” randomly from a hat to determine career moves – he is also juggling with his busy acting career a 62 unit class load at UCLA in an attempt to finish up his abandoned degree. FYI: 19 units is supposedly the maximum allowed per student per quarter at UCLA.
So, to say that Franco was well-cast as madman ‘Aron Ralston’ might be an understatement. Because with Boyle in charge of the stomach turning material which revolves around self-amputation, the film also finds wonderfully rich moments of humor. At one point during the hiker’s dilemma, he amuses himself by speaking to his camera as both host and guest on a comical game show, complete with laugh track. “This morning we have a special guest, self-proclaimed American Superhero, Aron Ralston!” The scene not only gets the intended giggles (thanks to Franco’s comedic touch), but also illuminates the character’s personality foibles that landed him in the wedge to begin with. Afterall, as the host says to ‘Aron,’ “Your supreme selfishness is our gain.”
But the film’s emotional impact hinges on not only how much we pull for the stuck hiker to somehow survive his ordeal, but to what extent we can grow with him to understand the cause and effect of the choices we all make in our lives. Choices that lead to fractured relationships, things left unsaid, and opportunities missed.