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Film Review: 127 Hours

An inspiring film about a life-and-death struggle

Review by Wil Milan

127 Hours PosterIt’s difficult to make a suspenseful film when it’s about a true story and everyone knows the ending. That was the challenge for director Danny
(of Slumdog Millionaire fame) with the film 127 Hours, the story of Aron Ralston, the young man who in 2003, his hand pinned under a boulder in a remote desert canyon, had to cut off part of his arm to free himself. But director Boyle (who also co-wrote the screenplay based on Ralston’s book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and actor James Franco (Spiderman films,
Pineapple Express) have met that challenge, delivering a dramatization that is not only very accurate, but transports the audience to see and feel Ralston’s predicament, his suffering, despair, and ultimate triumph.

The story made headlines at the time and the premise is now well-known: Out for a weekend of canyon-climbing, Ralston accidentally dislodges a boulder and ends up with his hand pinned by the boulder at the bottom of a slot canyon.
Far from civilization with little food or water and having told no
one where he was going, Ralston is suddenly faced with the type of situation few ever survive.

Actor James Franco is masterful in his depiction of Ralston. He compels the audience to experience Ralston’s
evolution from a bop-along, cocky thrill-seeker to his moment of shock when he is first trapped, then through times of rustration, despair, regret, bits of humor about his own plight, the memories of family and friends that sustained him, his resignation to his own death, and finally the surprising thoughts and events that led to his climactic suffering and euphoria of escape, only to realize that what he still faces is probably beyond what he can endure. Franco’s rendering of a man in extremis ranks among the best such portrayals on film, a tour de force that’s a shoo-in for a top
Oscar nomination.

Though the film is a dramatization, Boyle and his crew took great pains to portray the events accurately. In a recent BBC interview Ralston remarked that upon first seeing the film he was so caught up in its realism that he felt he was there again and found himself weeping through most of the film. Boyle took pains in even some of the smallest details: The rescue helicopter and pilot seen at the end of the film, for instance, were the actual helicopter and pilot who swooped in to rescue Ralston in 2003.

James Franco in 127 HoursWhen this film first opened in a few cities two weeks ago, much was made of reports of people fainting during one bloody scene at the climax of the film at the first Toronto screening. This reviewer can only conclude that there must have been some particularly squeamish people at that screening. The scene of Ralston’s self-amputation is indeed bloody and certainly both shocking and painful to watch, but the gore is not played up and the scene is kept short. That scene felt to this viewer like the minimum necessary to portray something of what Ralston went through, which in real life took more than an hour rather than the very few minutes on film. And it is nothing like the orgies of blood and gore seen in many popular action and horror films.

My criticisms of this film are few and perhaps nit-picky: The seemingly endless and obvious product placements become tedious. The flash-back to a “sex party” in a station wagon seemed gratuitous, though not very graphic. Most of
all, one can’t help thinking that Ralston, a search-and-rescue
volunteer who should have known better, was indeed very heroic in his actions, but was in his predicament only because of his own dumb mistakes and carelessness. Whether that’s a valid criticism I’ll leave to the reader, but certainly the film serves as a superb object lesson on many things not to do (including drinking one’s urine — never, ever do that, no matter how thirsty). Perhaps, in the long run, serving as a strong lesson on the value of wilderness preparation and forethought may be the film’s greatest value.

That said, I highly recommend the film. The strong tension throughout the film and a few scenes may be a bit too graphic for pre-teen children, but for anyone else it’s a superb
film, a very powerful story masterfully told not only in direction
and acting but also with first-rate cinematography and an excellent original score. Overall, a film not to miss.

This review was authored by Wil Milan. Because I and Equipped To Survive have an unfortunate history with Aron Ralston, I felt that I might be unable to give an entirely objective review of the film, so I asked Wil to attend the film preview and write this review. — Doug Ritter

Film web site: www.foxsearchlight.com/127hours/ (includes trailers, sound track samples, and several videos about the film, original event, and location)
Filmed on location near Moab, Utah.
Running time: 94 minutes