Oscar Movie Month: "127 Hours" Review

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Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: January 28, 2011
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Genre: Adventure / Biography / Drama

Few movies are as widely acclaimed as "127 Hours," the dramatic but realistic retelling of Aron Ralston's 127-hour entrapment between a boulder and the wall of an isolated Utah canyon. Although the premise of the film does not sound like the plot of a full-length movie, the story is told in a way that entrances audiences with the raw emotion of the fated canyoneer. Despite a few shortcomings, "127 Hours" is likely to be heralded as a cinematic achievement for many years to come.

On April 25, 2003, outdoor enthusiast and mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) prepares for a day of mountain biking and climbing at the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. While he is charting the rock formations on foot, he comes across two female hikers who appear lost. Ralston offers to show Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn) a better route and leads them to an underground pool. After some time of jumping in the pool and having fun, the two parties part ways, and Ralston continues on to Blue John Canyon.

Boulders are ominously suspended between walls of rock as Ralston wanders through the canyon alone. In a turn of fate, Ralston slips and falls into the canyon, jarring a boulder loose. As he falls to the bottom of the canyon, the boulder crushes his right arm, wedging it against the rock wall. Ralston's initial response is to call for help, but he soon realizes that his efforts are hopeless. Kristi and Megan are long gone by this time. He switches his thoughts to survival mode, rationing his food and water while chipping away at the boulder with a small blade. Viewers follow along as Ralston begins recording video diaries which grow more hopeless and desperate as the film progresses. Shots of Ralston attempting to free himself are interspersed with flashbacks that led him to that moment. After nearly five days, Ralston lets the hopelessness of his situation sink into his mind. However, a miraculous premonition leads him to make one last desperate attempt to survive.

"127 Hours" is as gritty and honest as movies come, inviting viewers to share in Ralston's pain and desperation. Despite the monotony of the central predicament, the movie rarely becomes tedious, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as they wait for the inevitable climax of the film. The score of "127 Hours," composed by two-time Academy Award Winner A. R. Rahman, tops off the film's shining moments for an overall epic feel. The soundtrack focuses heavily on the guitar, although there are some orchestral elements.

Having previously directed "28 Days Later" and "Slumdog Millionaire," director Danny Boyle had high audience expectations to live up to with this film. He doesn't disappoint with "127 Hours," which boasts Boyle's same energetic style. From the realistic effects of the film, it is clear that the production team went to great lengths to make a movie that captures the small details and feelings of Ralston's true story. The gory sequences near the end of the film are especially realistic, making audiences cringe at every heart-stopping moment.

One of the most unique aspects of this film is that it takes viewers deep into a single character's predicament and feelings through an introspective focus. James Franco's heartfelt performance accurately captures the raw emotion of the situation. Much of the film focuses on close-ups of James Franco's facial expressions which does not leave much room for error on the actor's part. From anger and hopelessness to desperation and courage, Franco leaves no emotion untouched. Viewers find themselves immersed in the mind and life of Aron Ralston through the acting of James Franco which, together with great cinematography and a fitting musical score, creates a raw, personal atmosphere.

Despite its many achievements, the film also has a few shortcomings. The moral of the film is somewhat shallow, and the moments leading up to the climax are dragged out just a little too long. Certain viewers may have a difficult time watching the movie due to its gritty realism and often cringe-worthy situations. The gory ending of "127 Hours" may not be appreciated by every viewer, but in the end, it is the true-to-life telling of the events that matters more than dramatic appeal.

Overall, "127 Hours" is a solid film that goes where few other films dare to go. Even skeptical audiences may find themselves pleasantly surprised at the movie's many strengths. Every movie-goer, whether he is a survivalist or a college student, is sure to spend the duration of the movie asking himself what he would do in a similar situation. Although he may never know, the important moment of introspection is one of the most powerful gifts that "127 Hours" has to offer viewers.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5