by Mel Valentin
In early May, 2003, as the world, as the media, fixated on the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies, a delirious, bloody Aron Rolston, an extreme mountaineer and canyoneer, emerged from the Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah. Trapped, alone, with his hand and arm pinned by a boulder, Ralston did the unthinkable: in the choice between his life and a limb, he chose life. The media quickly seized on the more sensational aspects of Ralston’s ordeal. A book deal followed. The book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” became an instant bestseller. Enthralled by Ralston’s memoir, filmmaker Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire," "Sunshine," "Millions," "28 Days Later," "Trainspotting,""Shallow Grave") purchased the rights.127 Hours follows Ralston (James Franco), a mechanical engineer by weekday and extreme sports enthusiasts at night (and the weekends), from the moment he awakens one Saturday morning, eager and excited to engage on his next adventure in Blue John Canyon. A spill on his mountain bike offers the first clue to Ralston’s taste for boundary-pushing physical risk. Before the accident that takes up most of 127 Hours running time, Ralston meets twenty-something hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn). Lost and initially wary, Kristi and Megan eventually give in to Ralston’s overabundant enthusiasm, dropping down into an underground pool from a height of thirty or forty feet.
"Oscar-bait survival drama less than the sum of its parts."
Krist and Megan’s feminine charms offer only a temporary diversion from Ralston’s adventure seeking in the canyon. Straddling the walls of a canyon, Ralston slips and falls, dislodging a chalkstone boulder. The boulder pins his right hand and forearm. With minimal water supplies, nutrition bars, a blunt, multi-purpose tool, and a backpack crammed with ropes, Ralston’s predicament looks dire, but he refuses to accept his fate. Putting his engineering skills to use, he attempts to dislodge the boulder using ropes and pulleys, but his repeated failures lead to Ralston’s pivotal decision, a decision few people, faced with the same choice, would make, and fewer still would complete. Boyle, to his credit, keeps his ever-moving camera locked down for the film’s gory, gruesome climax.
Franco has already received praise for his performance as Ralston (127 Hours premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, an obvious attempt to duplicate the success of Doyle’s previous effort, Slumdog Millionaire) . Alone for long stretches of time, with the exception of the occasional flashback (of an ex-girlfriend, of his parents, of a potentially life-saving phone call from his mother he didn’t take), dream, or hallucination (a stark contrast to the Ryan Reynolds-starring Buried released earlier this fall), Franco has to keep moviegoers consistently engaged in tight, claustrophobic close-ups, occasionally talking to a camcorder, sometimes talking out loud as part of his latest, soon-to-fail effort to extricate his hand from the boulder, sometimes as part of a free-floating hallucination, sometimes as part of an attempt to think through a particular problem.
Despite James Franco’s award-worthy performance as Ralston, 127 Hours disappoints, however, and not because Boyle, a hyperactive, hyperkinetic filmmaker prone to excess, breaks away at the slightest opportunity to swoop out of Ralston’s confined space, backing out into the canyon to emphasize the direness of Ralston’s predicament, and externalizing Ralston’s inner experiences (most of them predictably bizarre), but because the script, adapted by Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire collaborator Simon Beaufoy from Ralston’s book, that ultimately fails to bring insights to Ralston, individually or as representative of a particular example of early 21s-century Western masculinity. Clearly an admirer, Boyle refuses to linger on Ralston’s errors, specifically his failure to let anyone know where he was going or to bring someone along.Ralston was subsequently forced to rappel down a 165-foot canyon wall and hike back to civilization without water or food (and, presumably severe blood loss). Ralston understandably turned his grueling ordeal into a book, sold the film rights, and, in the usual end-credits transition back to the real world, returned to mountaineering and canyoneering with the help of a prosthetic limb. Like Ralston, it’s unlikely Boyle’s misjudgments will do little to hamper "127 Hours’" chances at next spring’s Oscar ceremony (assuming, of course, nominations in the top categories).
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21321&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/12/10 09:00:00