127 Hours tells the story of real-life mountain climber Aron Ralston who becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone in Utah, in 2003. The film, based on Ralston's autobiography Between A Rock and A Hard Place, was written for the screen by Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle who also directed. This is the same team that brought us Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, but these are two very different movies and, dare I say, 127 Hours is vastly superior.
Always eager for the next adventure, Ralson is a thrill-seeking, free-spirited mountain climber who leaves home without bothering to tell anyone where he is going. He doesn't even take a lot of time preparing for his trip. It is all very "on the spur of the moment". He grabs some food, water, climbing rope, a few basic tools, music, camera, throws them in his bat pack and he's on his way.
During the five days that Ralston spends being trapped in an isolated canyon, down a crevice, he examines his life and has all kinds of flashbacks and premonitions all the while trying to stay alive and not lose his mind. Eventually he realizes he has to resort to desperate measures in order to escape and that is when he cuts off his arm. I can't even begin to imagine what that must have felt like. Be prepared for a realistic self-amputation scene that was shot by Boyle in one take with multiple cameras. Boyle worked with a medical team on the accuracy of that scene and even though it is not extremely detailed, it is still quite graphic and it might make you want to look away from the screen. The good news is that by the time we, as viewers, get to that scene, we are as desperate and adrenaline-fueled as the main hero for a solution to escape, and that makes it easier to bear. We want him to survive. We want him to try everything humanly possible to get out of there - he must do or die. That's how involved you get in the movie.
At the center of 127 Hours is a fantastic, Oscar-worthy performance by James Franco and what a tour-de-force it is. Gritty, emotional, intense, witty. Although he wasn't Boyle's first choice to play Ralston (Cillian Murphy and Ryan Gosling had reportedly been considered before Franco's name came up), I'm glad he got the part because it finally gave him the opportunity to show what he is capable of on-screen.
Boyle described 127 Hours as "very much a British film", and "an action movie with a guy who can't move". Thanks to his directing genius, he turned 127 Hours into a compelling, unique movie experience, proving he was the perfect man for the job. Yes, it is a gut-wrenching, visceral film, but it will also surprise you with shots that nearly look like they were taken from a music video. It is visually stunning and almost hypnotic at times. Directing, editing and cinematography are excellent. It's modern, bold, edgy filmmaking and probably the best thing Boyle has done so far. It's not for everyone, but if you get into it, it is a movie you won't forget.
127 Hours is ultimately a story of survival, but it's not cliched. It is a story about the power of human mind, body and spirit, and that is a thing of beauty, awe and inspiration. Rating: 4.5 out of 5.