Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rock ’n a Hard Place

Call it an Academy oversight, if that particular word adds a tinge of justification, but there has to be some reason that the Danny Boyle-James Franco film 127 Hours was not voted the Best Picture of 2010 at the last Academy Awards. That award went to The King’s Speech. It should have been otherwise.

The combined talents of many artists and technicians go into the making of a good film and each of them deserves credit. That is no less true for 127 Hours, but it is also one of those collaborations that carries the strong imprint of two artists in particular—Director Danny Boyle and actor James Franco.

The movie is based on Aron Ralston’s book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, about his experience of being stuck for five days in a remote spot in the Utah Canyons. To my understanding the movie adaptation is true to Ralston’s story and was made with his complete cooperation and blessing. I suppose that Hollywood would call Boyle and Franco the stars, but the soul of Ralston is the real star here. I like to think that it’s lost none of its shine since his launch as a big media star.

Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a twenty-eight year-old hiker, mountain climber and cyclist who gets trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone in Utah. He has told no one his plans and no one knows where he is. He is neither a novice nor ill-prepared, and even in extreme conditions is tremendously levelheaded. The severity of his situation gradually sinks in, and he begins to work out solutions to the problem. I will give nothing away here other than saying that five days later he walks out of the canyon.

The overall vision of a well-made film belongs to the Director. In this case, that was Danny Boyle who has proven with Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 and the 1996 shock film Trainspotting that he is a director of rare talent. Most impressive in 127 Hours is his decision to make the story an intimate experience between one actor and the camera. For the picture’s ninety-four minutes James Franco is almost never off-camera, and in the last hour or more it's nothing but Franco in close-up, trapped inside a narrow canyon. The director also makes good use of his character’s delirium to thread in flashbacks and hallucination to get both viewer and Ralston momentarily out of the canyon’s confines. Taking the time afterward to look at the deleted scenes provides a good look through Boyle’s editorial eye, good example of his skill in knowing the moment when to cut and move forward. Interesting tidbit: Aron Ralston originally wanted to make the film as a documentary, and then as a drama-documentary, with him being interviewed in some sections, with other sections being dramatized. Boyle explained to Ralston that he didn’t think that would work. After seeing Slumdog Millionaire Ralston agreed to do it Boyle’s way. A wise decision.

In three or four pictures James Franco has proven himself a talented actor, but never one with the hint that somewhere inside is the kind of performance he gives in 127 Hours. I suppose you could say that good actors are known for their unexpected triumphs, but the level of subtly and nuance Franco displays in this film is not common to all. From the very first frame he begins applying layers to Ralston’s likeable, competent, romantic, driven and very strong outdoor hero character.

No surprise that the Moab, Utah locations are beautiful. Set up a camera in the middle of that national park and what else are you going to get? The photography is grand, but in this kind of ‘Man vs Nature’ outdoor picture with an eighteen million dollar budget anything else would have been a camera crime.

So many good things about 127 Hours. At the center of it all is the invincible spirit of Aron Ralston, but onto that affix the rare cinematic eye of Danny Boyle and the should-have-been Best Actor nod to James Franco.


  1. Was always on my must see list; now more than ever. Guess I partially justify the $200+ a month cable bill (getting everything they offer) by knowing all great films will show up on my screen one day. Like many awards in life, go down the list and note the losers and wonder how these films and books every lost any prize. But surely politics is never involved, right?

  2. If for no other reason than to find out how he got out, I want to see that movie. I'll go to a Red Box and see if I can find it.

  3. There is a chance you're eligible to receive a $300 IKEA Gift Card.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America