The true story of adventure seeking extreme sports nut Aron Ralston who, in 2003, became trapped in a canyon when a boulder fell on his arm leaving him with limited supplies and no way of contacting anyone.
With resources and hope dwindling we experience the loneliness, horror and the grisly release with James Franco, on screen for pretty much the entire film, giving a great performance as Ralston. The will to live against immutable odds and to overcome the failings which have led him there is the essential theme of the film and Boyle makes spending five or so days at the bottom of a canyon far more interesting than it sounds.
The claustrophobia inherent in the bare bones of the story is fleshed out by a brief rendezvous with two young woman before the fateful event and a series of flashbacks and imagined futures while trapped make clear the exact nature of the self realisation which kicks Ralston into action. It is a remarkable story of survival, told with invention and flair from Boyle; it is a dizzying display from a director as capable of successfully turning his hand to zombie outbreaks as to tales of survival like this one, and while the emotional attachment of the film comes slowly when it pays off, at journey’s end, it comes with surprising force.
James Franco’s performance needs to sustain the film and engage the audience emotionally from the first shot and as the hours wear on and fantasy mixes with the cold reality of the situation Franco keeps us focused on the hope as well as the horror. His portrait of the wounded Ralston veers from intense self belief to heartbreaking vulnerability; he isn’t the most sympathetic character and for the film to work at all on an emotional level you need to buy into his moments of self reflection – between the two of them Boyle and Franco make it work.
Entrust a relatively simple story to Danny Boyle and it’s a case of sitting back and letting his visual invention run you through the story. There’s a shot with a bone that will have you in equal states of repulsion and enjoyment, likewise he makes great use of the vast, harsh landscape, giving us a real feeling of the textures of the elements at play. We feel the warmth of the meagre sunlight as it finds Ralston in his canyon, we leap through the twisting canyon labyrinth with the same speed and hunger as he, and the key to this film is in the dissonant details of Ralston’s life – seen anew from the enforced vantage point.
Franco and Boyle combine to convey a sense of love for the moments when hope is rekindled, likewise in the darkest of the 127 hours Franco’s hosting of his own morning TV show breaks the tension and heightens the tragedy of the events. I wanted to listen to A. R. Rahman’s score all the way home, it’s yet another powerful Danny Boyle soundtrack with a neat touch of irony.
Boyle’s latest film has all the energy of his very best work to date, his visual virtuosity is held back, then let off like a firework, and when you stumble from the cinema it will be breathless, glad for the sun, and eager to see what both James Franco and Danny Boyle will do next.