Brought to you, commercial free, by PW news editor Rachel Deahl and online reviews editor Mike Harvkey.
Spoiler alert: the review below may, depending on your opinion, contain spoilers
Rachel: 127 Hours is, ostensibly, about Aron Ralston, the outdoorsman who earned his 15 minutes after, in 2003, he hacked off nearly half of his arm because he got it caught behind a rock in Canyonlands National Park. But director Danny Boyle’s film isn’t really about Ralston, it’s about that arm.
Based on Ralston’s 2004 memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Atria), 127 Hours—the title refers to the amount of time Ralston was trapped with limited water (and even less food)—initially seems like something of a cinematic experiment. How do you create an arc, and dramatic tension, in a story about one character, stuck in one place, where viewers, by and large, know the outcome? To his credit Boyle, and his charismatic star, James Franco, do a more than serviceable job on this front. 127 Hours moves at a steady click and never feels boring or claustrophobic.
Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), who’s known for frenetic camera work and bright pops of color, brings that trademark style to bear here. And, surprisingly, shots that might have come off as canned vistas of the American West—there are more than a few swooping takes of a blue sky against the dramatic browns and reds of the breathtaking Utah desert—work to good effect, reinforcing the bleakness of Ralston’s ‘in the middle of nowhere’ situation. (His hand got caught, on a lark, when a rock fell and trapped him as he was descending into a cave-like area.)
And Franco is excellent as Ralston. Talking at turns to himself and into the video camera he’d brought with him—it’s perched on the rock that looks likely to cause his death—Franco brings a sense of playfulness and levity to the film. He also gives the seemingly flat Ralston—an engineer who works in a camping store and moonlights as a search-and-rescue volunteer—some depth, focusing on the 26-year-old’s painful realization that his selfishness put him in this fatal situation. (It was the fact that Ralston told no one where he was going that ensured no rescue team would be sent to find him.)