In Danny Boyle’s capable hands, a story that could have been a bore comes to life
Imagine if you had two options: Saw your own arm off or die.
That’s exactly the position Aron Ralston (James Franco) gets himself into while on a solo canyoneering excursion in Utah. And what makes this story somewhat fantastic is that it’s real. The real Ralston hit headlines back in 2003. Then he penned a book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. And then director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) made a movie based on that book.
What results is a visually spectacular film starring Franco front and center and featuring just a few others—two girls he meets and climbs around with shortly after arriving in Blue John Canyon, and flashbacks of his parents, friends and girlfriend. Ralston, a clear rebel, heads off on his own to a natural playground in Utah, and just as he’s hopping around sure-footedly at the top of a canyon, he shifts a boulder loose and gets himself in a major pickle. As the title of the film suggests, his journey lasts 127 hours.
Franco is a fun actor to watch because he’s so dynamic—and 127 Hours is no exception, particularly because the majority of the film is him trying to get himself free of that damned boulder. But it’s Boyle’s directing that really makes this film so good—it very easily could have been a bore. But while Ralston is stuck in that canyon, just a sliver in the landscape, he begins to reflect on his life. Through a series of flashbacks, intermingled with dreams and his imagination, other characters in Ralston’s life are made real and his backstory is told.
Perhaps the biggest thing this movie is missing—and the reason it doesn’t get an exploding-popcorn review—is a likeable hero. Ralston is effectively a selfish jerk. And the irony is that one of the things the film has going for it is that Boyle didn’t try to glorify his protagonist by making him out to be something he wasn’t. In the film’s honesty, then, comes its shortcoming. That doesn’t mean I didn’t cry at the end, though.