I remember when this movie opened all the reports of people fainting and those who were not able to handle the arm cutting scene. I also remember laughing about it, I mean were they for real? I wanted to make fun of them, but I also wondered it were perhaps a sly marketing tool to amp up interest in a different way than your usual trailers and commercials. I have since come to believe that the reports were legit and I began to look at it from another angle. You see, I am a veteran horror movie fan and enjoy my share of blood and guts, both realistic and cartoonish, so this movie did not have that affect on me. However, the audiences this is drew in were a bit more diverse than a horror crowd and many would not used to seeing this sort of realistic blood on the screen, although it is unavoidable with this story. So, there's that.
127 Hours is the story of Aron Ralston, a likable enough guy played with charismatic panache by James Franco. Despite this easy likability he may be a little too independent, overconfident, and certainly reckless (debatable, perhaps, but I strongly suspect that recklessness came into play at some point). Well, he goes off hiking, like he had done many times before (even not saying so explicitly was implied by his preparations) but without telling anyone about his plans. He comes across as a bit of a loner, preferring to go out on his own without anyone to slow him down. Anyway, he does end up making his solo act a threesome, playing guide to a couple of lost hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara). Franco's big screen charm comes into play as he connects with the girls, but before long he is back on the trail.
Aron continues his hike, but before long he slips on a loose rock and falls into a crevice where his right arm gets trapped, quite literally, between a rock and a hard place. Now, to give away the end, he has to cut his arm off to escape. The question is how long it will take him to get to that point because I can tell you I do not think i could do it, granted I hope to never be in a position to actually find out.
The trick is to make this story that many are familiar with and make it interesting cinema. This is not necessarily an easy thing to pull off. You need to have an actor who can command the screen and a director with a style to keep it visually interesting. With the pair of James Franco and Danny Boyle you have just what you need.
I may have had reservations about Franco going in, but he does great job with it, not to mention turning into one of Hollywood's more interesting personalities. He brings distinct charisma to the screen. Franco makes you want to like Aron just as much as you want to throttle him for his bad ideas. I felt like I was right there with him, feeling (well, somewhat feeling) what he is feeling. There is an intensity to the experience as he struggles with his situation, slowly comes to grips with his only way of surviving, and the visions/flashbacks that go with it. I also liked the bits that showed him cracking up a little bit. I was convinced.
Danny Boyle, on the other hand was a known quantity and he certainly delivered. Boyle is not content to play within anyone genre, he goes where the stories take him. I have seen where some accuse him of being too flashy or showy in what he does here, I don't see it. It sure it drenched in his style, but it is all in service making an engrossing film both emotionally and visually. Well, I guess some of it could be considered indulgent, or done for the sake of style, but I don't see it that way. I believe that all of his swoops, cuts, angles, and other stylistic choices all serve the film and act to bring us further in to the situation. It is impressive work as it cannot be easy to construct a compelling narrative around a character who is stuck in one location for most of the film. Then there is "the scene," how do you handle that? Pretty realistically. Sure, the music and editing gets a little more amped up, but the execution of it feels real. Yes, it did make me cringe.
This is an easy movie to recommend. It provides a very tense experience. At the same time it is quite entertaining, even funny at times. It does not tell a heroic story, but one of desperation and survival in the face of realization that you may have made a gigantic mistake. I give a lot of credit for making this story engrossing and personal. This is a big thing because for as nice a guy as the real Aron Ralston may be, I find what he did to be arrogant and selfish (not the arm cutting, the going hiking without notification). It was a foolhardy thing to do; however, the story that has emerged from it is a sobering one, a crashing into reality and the things that happen to the mind when the crossroads is reached.
I guess I should also mention that as I watch the film in the safety of my own home, I am within arms reach of both a Leatherman Super Tool 300 and a genuine Swiss Army knife (and a couple of other handy blades). You could probably look at 127 Hours as a 90 minute commercial for Swiss Army knives or Leatherman tools. It just goes to show that you need to be prepared with the right tools for the job!
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it looks quite good. There is a good level of detail throughout, this is especially apparent in all of the facial closeups where fine detail isn't lost. Colors are solid and more often not quite vibrant, just look at the sun drenched landscape that Danny Boyle treats us to. Nothing to complain about in terms of the transfer, this is a fine looking DVD.
Audio, likewise, is solid. It is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Dialogue is crisp and the surrounds add atmosphere although are not especially active. The A.R. Rahman score is represented wonderfully throughout. I was glad to find the "scene" translated well to the small screen and that is in no small part to the audio design with the score, the cries of pain, and other audio effects.
Extras. The disk is pretty light in this area.
- Commentary. The track features writer/director/producer Danny Boyle, writer Simon Beaufoy, and producer Christian Colson. It is a very good track as they muse on the origin of the story, the real Aron Ralston, the shooting conditions, scenes, music, and more. It is a lively conversation and that makes for a good listen.
- Deleted Scenes. 35-minutes of deleted sequences including an alternate ending that goes further than the film does post-rescue. I am glad to have seen them, as they are interesting, but I am also glad that they were cut, particularly the ending. This alternate does not work nearly as well for me.
Bottomline. Solid movie whose DVD is a little scant on the extras. Still, the movie is definitely worth the time. I have watched it a few times and it works each time, I have found its effect is not diminished upon multiple viewing s as I thought it would. This is a movie that you should not miss.
Article first published as DVD Review: 127 Hours on Blogcritics.