James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
Directed by Danny Boyle
There’s no question that director Danny Boyle has amassed an impressive and eclectic body of work that includes the likes of 1996’s “Trainspotting,” 2002’s “28 Days Later” and 2004’s “Millions,” but how could he possibly be expected to top a splendid masterwork like 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire?” That rags-to-riches tale grossed more than $360 million worldwide, became a pop cultural sensation and won eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director).
Perhaps there was only one way to top it: by adapting the true story of Aron Ralston, the daring hiker who was forced to cut off his own right forearm with a blunt instrument after being trapped under a boulder for days. With the last of his food and water consumed, and with no hope of being found in a rock formation in the barren Utah wilderness, Ralston’s only chance for survival led to the most desperate of all decisions, which Boyle captures on film with gruesome detail.
To say that “127 Hours” is not for the faint of heart would be the understatement of the year, especially after early viewers collapsed during the amputation scene at film festival screenings in Telluride and Toronto. To avoid such a potentially squirm-inducing scene, one supposes that Boyle could have chosen to focus on the facial expressions of Ralston (James Franco), which would have been hard enough to watch.
But the fact is, the scene is absolutely essential. This was the moment of truth – a last act of desperation caused by one man’s instinct to survive, which further solidifies “127 Hours” as an emotionally powerful cinematic experience that you will never forget. Oscar nominations are sure to follow for Best Picture and Best Director, but most of all, for Best Actor, as James Franco gives a physically and emotionally devastating performance that’s one for the books.
And with the exception of a couple of attractive female hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) that Ralston meets before his tortuous ordeal (and the shocked tourists he’s grateful to see after the fact), it’s a virtual one-man show for Franco. But unlike “Buried,” the season’s other experiment in claustrophobia, “127 Hours” shows how he landed in his predicament. Boyle and his “Slumdog” screenwriter Simon Beaufoy also intersperse Ralston’s deteriorating physical and mental state with flashbacks to other key moments preceding his confinement.
That brings us back to the grisly amputation scene. Before it gives you second thoughts about seeing “127 Hours,” consider that this is the emotionally rousing payoff that the movie has been building up to all along. It’s comparable to rooting for Tom Hanks during his escape from a deserted island in “Cast Away” – instead of looking away, you embrace his determination to succeed and survive his great moment of triumph. Not only does that speak volumes about the enduring power of “127 Hours,” but it’s also a testament to the promise that Danny Boyle will be able to follow this with yet another amazing and unforgettable movie.
Verdict: SEE IT!