To say that 127 Hours isn’t a film for the fainthearted is something of an understatement.
Simply relating the plot of Danny Boyle’s true-story drama is enough to make hardened souls go weak at the knees. And watching it has left folk fainting and puking in the aisles – as has been happening since the film’s world premiere at the Toronto film festival last September.
The cause of all this queasiness? Well, surely everyone now knows about American mountain climber Aron Ralston’s notorious ordeal – the story was global news at the time, almost 8 years ago. If, though, you are still unaware of the grisly details, brace yourself…
Ralston is the brash young thrill-seeker who came seriously unstuck while climbing in Utah’s Blue John canyon in April 2003. He was travelling alone, and hadn’t bothered to tell anyone where he was going, when a colossal boulder came crashing down on him in a narrow ravine, pinning his right arm to the canyon wall.
For five days, he strove to extricate himself. To no avail. Stuck fast and facing certain death, he finally took the drastic step of cutting off his lower right arm to escape. Eeek!
It’s an amazing survival tale, but not an obviously cinematic one, or so you’d think. After all, the spectacle of one guy stuck in a confined space for days on end is hardly visually interesting, no?
Yet Boyle, deploying the flashy, hyper-kinetic style of filmmaking that made watching the likes of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire such a rush, turns Ralston’s experience into a terrifically compelling movie.
Boyle’s zippy camerawork is a perfect fit for adrenaline-junkie Ralston when he’s bounding over rocks and sliding down crevices in the early stages of his trip – impressing a pair of female hikers with his daredevilry along the way. And it’s a way of getting inside his head – expressing his memories, hopes and hallucinations – after his ordeal begins.
None of this would work nearly so well, however, if the actor playing Ralston weren’t up to the task. Fortunately, James Franco has both the charisma and the acting chops to pull things off.
He brilliantly conveys Ralston’s cocksure hubris and restless energy, and he convinces you of the climber’s intelligence and ingenuity too.
Those qualities were essential if Ralston was to keep himself alive, but it took something else entirely to go through with the extreme measures – unflinchingly depicted by Boyle – he took to free himself.
It’s the question everyone who hears Ralston’s tale asks: could I do what he did to survive?
Watching 127 Hours won’t answer that, but it will leave you saluting Ralston’s incredible bravery and resourcefulness.
127 Hours is on general release.