2010 was a great year for movies. Hell, it was so good the Academy expanded the nominee list for Best Picture from five to ten films. And just take a look at that list: The King’s Speech, Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit, Winter’s Bone… and 127 Hours. I’d seen the five of the films (the first five) on the list prior to this, and they were all fully deserving of the accolades they received. There hasn’t been a year that has matched up to 2010: 2011 was a pretty middling year in comparison (look at the list again: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse. I haven’t seen all of them so I wouldn’t presume… but just put the lists side-by-side and it’s easy to see how they stack up. In fact I felt 2011 was served pretty badly by the expansion of the nominee list; films like Midnight in Paris and War Horse – while good films in their own right – felt like they’d been forced onto the list simply to make up ten films.), and 2012 remains to be seen.
(Wait, has it only be two years since 2010? Funny, I could have sworn otherwise… well, 2012 is looking rather hopeful. I think this could be the strongest year for film since 2010. Is that only one middling year?! Wow.)
127 Hours has been pretty high up on my watch list, but there was nothing setting it apart from the other Best Picture nominees that year – until I read the book upon which it was based. Between A Rock and A Hard Place is Aron Ralston’s own account of the events that transpired up to, during, and after he found himself caught in exactly such a situation. I couldn’t connect much with certain sections where he described his past adventures or how his family and friends eventually located him, but his recount of his time trapped in the canyon is one of the most powerful things I’ve every read. The thought of being forced between cutting off your own arm or dying slowly made me flinch mentally every time I considered watching the film, but the way Aron describes the amputation process in the book brings the idea across as much more feasible. It doesn’t make the thought of it any less terrifying, but reading the book you could believe you could, and would, do it. Ralston’s biography made me immensely keen on watching the film, partly also because there was quite a lot of technical jargon that made it difficult to visualise certain passages.
The only thing I can associate with Danny Boyle is 2008’s amazing Slumdog Millionaire. 127 Hours recalls Boyle’s directorial style in Slumdog Millionaire, where sceneries and settings have their colours accentuated to achieve an enchanting, almost intoxicating effect. The Utah canyonlands, although largely confined to a narrow palette of brown sand, yellow sunlight, blue sky, and the occasional dusty white or grey, have never seemed so mesmerizing. The scenes in which Aron slips from reality are trippy and psychedelic. His hallucinations are sometimes nightmarish (I can’t look at Scooby Doo the same way again…), sometimes comforting. Boyle also cleverly draws the audience’s attention time and again to water: the drop on the edge of the faucet in the opening scene, the perspective shots from within Aron’s Camelbak as his water supply depletes, the droplets of condensation on his bottle. He sometimes utilises the split-screen technique, which can’t help but make me recall a reviewer’s comments on Ocean’s Thirteen:
Although sometimes two of the split-screen frames do show pretty much the same thing, most of the time the technique’s well-employed, showing Aron’s efforts to free himself from various angles.
James Franco delivers a powerful and convincing performance here. The weight of the film rests on this individual as surely as the chockstone rested on Ralston’s hand. For a film that has only one actor on screen for the greater part of the movie, 127 Hours is surprisingly engaging. Perhaps it is to do with the acting, or the way Boyle so successful captures how small Aron is in relation to the vast emptyness of the canyonlands, I truly felt that Aron was, in his own words, “in deep doo-doo” – something I never felt watching a lot of disaster and mountaineering movies. Aided by very competent screenwriters, James Franco utters some of the best lines of that year, and wonderfully conveys the book’s wicked sense of humour – best shown in this memorable scene:
Now the big question… how bad, exactly, is the amputation scene? For all I heard about audiences fainting in the cinema, it’s really not that gruesome. I think horror films do a lot worse. I understand the argument that gore has been played up to such ridiculous extents in horror movies that when you go in you kind of accept it as a given, and perhaps because it’s all fictional and at times so ridiculous it doesn’t nearly hit as hard as a realistic portrayal of something that really happened, to a real person. The truth is, the amputation scene is done very tastefully. There is no more gore than necessary, and it is a very accurate portrayal of the actual amputation as depicted in the book. I believe it helps too to read the book before going in.
127 Hours has one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, and one of the most gorgeous posters of the year, and an absolutely rocking soundtrack.
Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Rating on IMDb: 7.7
Viewing history: Seen 1x. DVD rental.