As soon as I read about it, I knew I had to see "127 Hours," the new film by Danny Boyle based on Aron Ralston's memoir of his bizarre accident while mountaineering, titled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." Even though I'm going to be talking about the plot, I didn't put "plot spoiler" in my title for this posting because anybody reading this probably already knows a fair amount about the plot. One reason to see this is the compelling story, another is Danny Boyle's extraordinary artistic accomplishment here, and finally, there is the incredible performance by James Franco as Ralston.
Ralston was out by himself climbing in Blue John Canyon in Utah one Saturday in 2003 when a rock on which he was standing gave way, propelling him down a crevice, with the rock pinning his wrist against the crevice wall. Luckily, the rock settled in this position at a height where he could stand and the accident did not kill him. Unluckily, the rock was too heavy for him to move with his free hand (the left hand), he did not have any communication device to call for outside help, nobody knew exactly where he was, and he was not ideally equipped for the ordeal he was about to face.
He was trapped in the crevice for 127 hours and finally, realizing that his right hand was undoubtedly dead from the lack of blood and oxygen circulation, his food and liquids gone, and hallucinations beginning, he used the unfortunately dull blade of his only tool to cut off his arm at the wrist and managed to make his way back to a trail, intercept some hikers, and obtain emergency assistance. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his fortitude, he remains an enthusiastic mountaineer, grappling along with his prosthetic right hand, according to a brief postscript to the movie that shows the real Aron Ralston with his wife and baby son.
What Boyle has done so well is to take a very static event – being pinned at the bottom of a crevice for 127 hours – and turned it into a compelling film with not a boring moment — indeed, a feeling of such activity that the time flies. (The movie is 95 minutes long, slightly short for a feature length film but just as long as was needed to tell the story with full impact.) Franco does an astonishing acting job, but he is not alone in the crevice (this was filmed on location), as two cinematographers — Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak — were down there with him, capturing the "action" from all angles, making it possible for Boyle and editor John Harris to create an action film, amazingly, whose center is static.
This film is so good that it grips you even when you know in advance how things will turn out, which I imagine just about every who sees it knows. One becomes completely caught up with the character, vicariously experiencing every sensation. If I were a producer, I would definitely want Danny Boyle directing my film, and James Franco playing my lead. (There are quite a few brief supporting roles, all handled quite well, but Franco occupies alone for extended periods of time and does it so engagingly and intensely that you don't miss the presence of other players.)
I can't praise this film highly enough. So many people involved with it deserve serious recognition. It's a shame that due to the subject matter so few are likely to see it. At present, although it opened just a few weeks ago, it is playing at only one theater in Manhattan – the Landmark Cinema on East Houston Street – and it probably just has a few more weeks to run there. Considering all the mediocre stuff playing at the centrally located multiplexes in town, the exile of this film to a remote location is a crying shame. I'm hopeful that recognition for it will build through good reviews and word of mouth, since it should be seen and honored.
Indeed, now I've seen two films this year in which James Franco gives performances that seem Oscar-worthy to me: Howl! and 127 Hours. In both, he takes on the task of inhabiting and channeling the persona of a real individual, and does so with such total involvement and conviction that the result feels poetically true. If he doesn't get nominated for one or the other of these roles, there is no justice. And Danny Boyle definitely deserves Oscar consideration, as do the cinematographers. Boyle and his writing partner, Simon Beaufoy, also deserve a nomination for best adaption of a work from another medium — Ralston's original book.