The events of what happened to Aron Rolston in a Utah crevice have become something of a modern myth. For those of you who don’t know (which honestly seems to be a rare minority), in 2003 Rolston went mountaineering, without telling anyone before hand. He went down the secluded Blue John Canyon only to get trapped by a boulder and was forced to cut off his own arm, for over 40 minutes, to escape the perilous situation. I may have just given away the ending (which most already know), but that really doesn’t matter. The strength of this movie does not come from its surprising ending, but from its arrival to it. By far the star of this movie is James Franco because predominantly he’s the only one on screen. Despite the pressure this may put on an actor, Franco rises to the challenge of having to take the audience through the gruelling experiences of a man pushed to his limit.
127 Hours sees the return of innovative British Director Danny Boyle, director of Oscar and Bafta winning Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later…. With titles such as these you would expect a story about a man stuck between a rock and a hard place to be a little static for Boyle. However, Boyle does provided a sense of motion throughout the film that many other directors would shy away from. It is through James Franco’s performance that the film maintains its pace and the pairing of the two seems to be so natural; it’s a wonder they hadn’t worked together before. At its heart, 127 Hours is a film about Rolston’s development as a character – to begin with he is presented to the audience as a rather archetypal adrenaline-junkie, to the point where you don’t really feel empathy for him when he finds himself trapped, only with the situation itself. Naturally, Boyle is using this difference deliberately to develop the audience’s perception of Rolston. He goes from a character of arrogant individualism to one of regretful vulnerability. So when the infamous scene finally arrives, you are just as shocked and discomforted as you would be if you had no prior knowledge of it, simply through the sheer strength of Franco’s performance.
However, there is an elephant in the room – the cliché that looms large on the fringes of this movie. The cliché that this is essentially a story about a man who lives life so superficially on-the-go that it takes a near death experience to force him to realise the error of his ways and, in the way only Americans can, he ‘finds himself’. Yet, both Boyle and Franco’s delivery of this formulaic Hollywood archetype is so sincere and masterful that not only do you miss it at first, but you don’t care either. You don’t care because this is a movie that doesn’t romanticise the concept of finding oneself (see Eat, Pray, Love for further details). Instead it takes you through the physical and the psychological turmoil experienced by Rolston as he faces his inner demons, in this case embodied by an inflatable Scooby-Doo. Bizarre hallucinations aside, this film excels because on top of the ending everyone knows, 127 Hours is a movie that makes all cliche irrelevant, which is a real accomplishment on both Boyle and Franco’s part.
127 Hours is a surprisingly visceral and nerve-racking movie that sees both Boyle and Franco at their cinematic peak, which hopefully will be rewarded at the awards ceremonies. If not, I don’t think Boyle or Franco would feel they could have done anything more – and rightly so.