Director Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” picks up where his Academy award-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” left off. With Free Blood’s “Never Hear Surf Music Again” blaring over the opening, it’s as if the credits are carrying over the energy of “Slumdog’s” final Bollywood dance number.
The credits, presented in three different sections of the screen, show thousands of people and automobile traffic rushing through the daily routine. In the screen’s middle section we see the film’s central character, Aron Ralston, who is in a rush of his own.
While his family, friends and coworkers are heading into just another weekend, Ralston is preparing himself for some outdoor adventure. Ralston would have probably slowed down if he knew what was in store for him.
“127 Hours” follows the true story of Ralston’s survival while stranded in Blue John Canyon, located in Southeast Utah. Ralston’s right arm was pinned between a boulder and the canyon’s walls for five days before he was able to escape.
Despite its basis in actual events, “127 Hours” accomplishes the rare feat of making a known story seem refreshing and exciting. While Ralston’s survival has been covered by most of the world’s media outlets, the film is still able to deliver on the surprising moments that accompany his story.
Once Ralston falls into Blue John Canyon, the film’s focus falls squarely on the actor portraying Ralston, James Franco. By the end of “127 Hours” it’s difficult to imagine who could have filled those mountain boots quite as well.
Even though the film is a gritty survival story at its heart, Franco manages to provide plenty of humor, whether in the face of Ralston’s potential demise, or even after the escape from the canyon’s walls. The laughs are a welcoming invitation to the audience, for when things get worse in the canyon, Ralston is still a character worth caring about.
To go into detail about the events that take place during Ralston’s stay in the canyon is to ruin a part of the extremely visceral experience that “127 Hours” is. Once the title flashes across the screen, about 10 minutes into the film, it’s as if to signal the start of a theme park ride.
For anyone still arguing that the improvement of technology, especially 3D films and CGI, is ushering in a new era of “immersive entertainment,” “127 Hours” offers a blunt antithesis to those sentiments.
Boyle filmed the scenes within the canyon on an indoor set, and shot the entire film on Digital SLR cameras, which aren’t much larger than your average household video camera. Even knowing that information, you’d be hard-pressed to find a handful of films that create such a natural-feeling environment without the use of digital effects.
Boyle’s filmmaking craft is on full display in “127 Hours,” but never does it feel as if he’s showing off or being overly ambitious. He has packed in just enough visual flare, technical prowess and compelling storytelling to keep the film from feeling forced.
The film’s soundtrack is also worth noting for perfectly blending many of the most memorable moments with songs. It’s hard to imagine that anyone will think of the previously mentioned “Never Hear Surf Music Again,” Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day,” or even the theme to “Scooby Doo” in the same way after seeing the film.
Once the film begins to draw to a close, Ralston is compelled to make a drastic decision that could save his life. Even for those familiar with the story’s outcome, this moment provides a culmination of everything the film does right.
Boyle is able to portray Ralston’s decisions through visually representing a lot of his thoughts and feelings. These moments are rather unexpected and surreal, but still remain accessible to the audience.
“127 Hours” is a film that’s based on a true story, but it doesn’t play down any of the real events or attempt to portray its character’s decisions with contrived motivations. Ralston is, as one would assume he was in this actual situation, a conflicted human being who is fighting to survive.
When “127 Hours” played at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of this year, an audience member asked the real Aron Ralston how he felt about the portrayal of his story. Ralston’s response was both emotional and thankful, and rightfully so. “127 Hours” is a thoughtfully crafted portrayal of his amazing story.