Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movie Review: 127 Hours (by Dave Machado)

127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston, (played by James Franco) an American mountain climber who in April 2003 was forced to amputate his arm after being pinned by a boulder deep within Utah's Blue John Canyon for days. Similar to Buried, 127 Hours is mostly a one man show as the majority of the film takes place deep in the canyon as Ralston struggles to keep his mind on one idea only, survival. The film strives for accuracy and according to Ralston himself, is the closest they could get to making a Documentary without actually using footage of him inside the canyon. While Franco's performance is excellent and the editing is some of the best I've seen all year (second only to Scott Pilgrim), something about the latter half of the movie just didn't click with me. 127 Hours, while deeply inspirational and told with a refreshing energy, ended up having far too many stylistic choices that clashed with my expectations, causing the movie to lose too much steam to be considered a true classic.

It's hard to judge a film harshly when you know everything that is on screen really happened. Knowing they had Ralston's help and approval the whole way through only solidifies that fact even more. But it's not the story that bugged me most about 127 Hours, it was the way it was told. As the hours in the canyon pass and Ralston becomes more delusional due to thirst, cold, isolation, and fear of death, the movie makes the choice to really dive into his mind. Scenes of hallucinations are played out as if the camera itself has fused with the warped mind of the man trapped below. The movie then becomes more unhinged as you are not sure if what you are seeing is real, a memory, or neither of those two. I understand it is supposed to make you feel the same frustration that Ralston himself felt deep below the mountains, but I simply would have preferred a more distant/clinical study of his ordeal.

That issue aside, I really did enjoy the film. The opening credit sequence was one of the more exciting openings to a film I've seen in quite some time. The fast paced editing and multiple frames on screen gave everything an urgent feel and really dragged me into the film. Sometimes it takes far too long to get into the groove of a movie (The King's Speech) so it's always good to see one that you are on board with from the first frame. Obviously this level of energy is not kept up for the entire movie but that would have been a nearly impossible feat. That being said, it's important to note just how well of a job Danny Boyle did at making sure a movie about a man at the bottom of a canyon never gets dull. I may not have liked the stylistic choices he made during the middle of the movie, but it still never bored me.

A lot has been said about the actual amputation scene in the film. I believe talks of people fainting have been greatly exaggerated, though I will say that if you are typically not a fan of gore, you may get a bit squeamish during the scene. I've seen enough gorefests now that I've become so desensitized to on screen violence that I simply watched, hand on chin, admiring the attention to detail as he systematically cuts away using a blade far too dull for such a gruesome task. It's a great scene and was also where I really regained my confidence in the film. I was happy to see that a movie with such a great lift off but a fairly bumpy ride was able to steady itself and stick the landing in a beautiful manner.

I was surprised to see that 127 Hours had made such a small amount during it's first run in theaters late last year. I hope all the award season buzz that Franco is getting for his performance will allow the movie to reach a larger audience during its second run. While I may have had my own problems with the movie, I can at least appreciate that it was one of the better made (and better sounding, as the score is fantastic) films of 2010 and rightfully deserves a spot in the Best Picture race. Danny Boyle proves he is one of the most exciting Directors working today and James Franco gets to show just how good of an actor he really is. Just make sure you leave a note saying where you've gone before seeing the film.

You're Welcome,

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