127 Hours (2010)

Adventure, Biography, Drama, Thriller
James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Sean Bott
A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.
As gut-wrenching as it is inspirational, 127 Hours unites one of Danny Boyle's most beautifully exuberant directorial efforts with a terrific performance from James Franco.
  • Fox Searchlight Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 28 Jan 2011 Released:
  • 01 Mar 2011 DVD Release:
  • $18.3M Box office:

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Trailer:

An emotional and unforgettable experience9/10
Despite having the opportunity to see Darren Aronofsky's absolutely extraordinary masterpiece Black Swan at this year's past Toronto International Film Festival, I did regret missing out on Danny Boyle's 127 Hours. The film was one of the few to emerge from the festival with momentous Oscar buzz, and even a bit of controversy over a specific scene late in the film that was causing people to faint in theatres.

The film chronicles the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a recklessly arrogant mountain climber whose arm gets crushed under a boulder during a trip through Utah canyon country. With no one coming to save him, he must decide whether he will die or fight for survival.

The logline and description may not sound like much, but 127 Hours delivers one of the most riveting and incredibly emotional experiences I have had in a theatre in some time. I was unsure Boyle and his crew could top their Oscar-winning work in Slumdog Millionaire, but this film improves upon it in every way possible. Because of all the talk about "the scene", the majority of people will know how the film ends well before they even consider seeing it. But everything leading up to Aron's life-altering decision is absolutely amazing and the stuff of pure filmmaking magic.

From the very beginning up until the very end, you know you are in the hands of some truly special filmmakers, specifically Boyle. Everything in the film seems to have a pulse and a life of its own, whether it is the hyper kinetic editing, the lush and gorgeous cinematography, the often epic score, the thought-provoking writing or just the general style of the film. Where other movies pay very little attention to the little things, Boyle and company seem to have amped up the quality in the majority of those areas, and made a film whose elements very much complement each other. I could not believe the short running time at first, but they pack so much in and the film moves at such an aggressively energetic pace, that you barely have time to slow down and breathe once the film really gets moving.

One of the unique things that really stood out for me was the use of flashback throughout the film. Ralston spends a lot of time thinking about what brought him to this life changing moment, and it is rather interesting how Boyle handles these thoughts. They act specifically as our way into Ralston's life and his character dynamic, but they never seem to overtake the bigger picture of his being pinned by the rock. They work rather brilliantly as asides, as mere stylishly and crazily edited set pieces (a naked party in the back of an SUV is a particular standout). They are among the film's few scenes of character interaction, and help the audience adjust deeper and deeper into Ralston's mindset. It aids the film in being an even greater experience of authenticity. His hallucinations are done in very much the same way, but do not work nearly as great as these off-the-wall scenes do.

The lengthy cast list may not suggest it, but the film is really just the James Franco show. We only get fleeting and stylishly edited glimpses of him at first, but after the boulder comes down, the film becomes a deeply focused, claustrophobic and devastatingly candid character piece driven almost exclusively by facial movements and reactions. 2010 has been a year of transformations by actors, and Franco's turn as Ralston is no different. The camera gets right in his face and shows us the gritty reality of his predicament, and Franco is eerily authentic in his portrayal. You can see the gradual exhaustion and desperation taking its toll on him; you can see the visible fear on his face as he faces life or death. Not many actors are able to drive a film by mainly interacting with themselves and the static objects around them, but Franco delivers in spades at every turn. Whether he is being devastatingly hilarious or dead serious, he still manages to ensure the realism and intensity of his performance never changes. You will be unable to take your eyes off this riveting portrayal at any time.

While it pains me to have to point out the film's small amount of imperfections (even with the attention to detail), it is only because I cannot wrap my head around the film being absolutely flawless. This is an incredible piece of cinema, but there are a few special effects, musical and editing choices made that are simply baffling. I understand the point and logistical ideas around some of them, but some just stand out as odd. Why point out the insects that inhabit Ralston's surroundings, and then make them so CGI'ed that they look visibly fake? Why throw in the out of place tunes to help try and convey his emotions? I know I am pulling at strings, but there were at least a handful of elements that seemed out of place and made the film slightly less than perfect. It just seems these extra steps easily could have been made to make the film even more pristine.

127 Hours is not just a film – it is an experience. It is only in limited release now, but I can only hope that audiences everywhere will get the opportunity to see the movie. It is an amazing movie centred around an absolutely incredible, legendary performance. Watching Franco bare his soul on-screen is practically a cleansing experience. I went in with high hopes, and left with a huge smile on my face. It is authentically emotional, and in a year merely punctuated with a handful of amazing movies amongst a sea of filth, it more than just stands out. It is quite simply, unforgettable.

9.5/10.
You may be dying but the world moves on8/10
You may be dying but the world moves on. That is the naked truth about our existence and the main allegory written in the stimulating visual experience provided by Danny Boyle in his latest film. 127 Hours is a wonderful metaphor for solitude and for the importance of what life means at an individual level. It enhances the indescribable experience of having a family, friends and love, but most of all cherishes the meaning of human contact. Solitude is perceived as being bearable and a lot of times needed but seldom is viewed as being fulfilling. Only when the epiphany pops into our minds, we realize what we have been missing. It is a common and frustrating fact. Nonetheless, Danny Bolyle's achievement allows a new and fresh take on this theme. The director shows the audiences that life happens when they least expect. And truth be told, there is a bright place for those who abandon their egotistical "independence" and start sharing the events that life provides.

Telling a story about a man who is stuck in the same place for such an extensive period of time is definitely not easy. Danny Boyle described the picture as "an action movie in which the hero doesn't move" and he certainly took the challenge. With this in mind, two main conclusions can be withdrawn from Boyle's work: 1) He was able to maintain the action dynamic and the viewers engaged through a series of devices that allow them to be interested not only on the hero's present condition but also in his past and, quite possibly, his future. The mind behind Trainspotting entered the psyche of his new hero and gave it a shape and a texture that transformed the general perception. The empathy towards the character grew and from that moment on the audience grabbed the hook. He was able to dissect James Franco's character thoughts and desires in a moment of extreme physical and psychological agony.

2) It was extremely hard to be inventive in such scenario and some techniques proved to be tiresome. In certain moments during the movie, Danny Boyle seemed to be trying to hard when having a simpler approach looked like to be more successful. He stylized the action in a way that doesn't always work even considering that he established his filmmaking style from the very beginning.

With regards to the main performer, it is only fair to praise James Franco's enactment. It is a truly astonishing tour-de-force that will probably be mentioned during the Oscar nominations. He's not only charming and witty but his personality fills the screen with such a great talent. It is very gratifying to observe his evolution according to the character's state of mind.

127 Hours is a quite remarkable achievement. There's the ability to pick up a true straightforward story about survival and courage and enhance it through a sheer composition of good sense without falling on the old American cliche. This story does not try to be epic or monumental. It tries to be honest and true. And we, as viewers, don't feel cheated or slapped across the face, and that is really all we could ask for.
127 HOURS - Danny Boyle right on the money9/10
I came into this movie with high expectations. Danny Boyle, who brought us 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE had a lot to live up to with the quality of prior movies, and he did not disappoint. He brought the challenge of creating an interesting movie based on our main character being immobile to life, and captivating it was. Being stuck with our main character the entire duration of the film was anything but tedious, as we follow the thoughts of canyoneer Aron Ralston (James Franco) as he gets trapped under a rock while exploring the beautiful sights of Utah. The camera does a fabulous job taking us everywhere a wandering mind might migrate in a situation such as this.

The human connection element was most fascinating, as we wonder what we would do if placed in a similar situation. We are really "with" Ralston on his journey, as we see him discover a reason to live and how his life perspective changes, not just how to get free from his predicament. The film manages to stay optimistic and warming, despite the frustration and angst felt by Ralston and viewers. And we certainly thank Boyle for some of the lighter moments that temper the severity of the situation.

The film does not shy away from tough choices and certainly keeps it "real" during the entire run, especially during the critical climax scene. Despite being stuck in place the movie is fascinating at the pace with which it moves and keeps the audience's attention from start to finish. So while Ralston loves living on the edge, we see Boyle create this movie in a similar fashion, metaphorically speaking, as the intensity and gripping nature of Ralston's circumstances comes alive and sucks us in.

In the movie Aron Ralston sets off on a typical weekend excursion being outdoors and with nature. During his journey he befriends a couple of female hikers who are somewhat lost and looking to get back on their way. He shows them the ropes of the canyons and they set off home. Little do they know that their friend will need their help just moments later. Becoming trapped under a rock, Ralston now is faced with the challenge of keeping himself alive while trying to break loose from the rock's firm grasp. As Aron works on a solution, we see him wonder about the party he's been invited to just hours earlier, think about how his has ignored his family, wonder about where he left his Gatorade, which would keep him hydrated longer, do a live interview featuring himself on camera, and drink his own urine.

I think the part of the movie that moved me the most actually occurred after the climax, where we see Ralston, broken, desperate, and willing to end his lone-wolf mentality for good. The emotions felt during the last 5 minutes signify human triumph, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit. Incredible movie, a definite must-see 9/10 stars
A Triumph10/10
Sometimes (even oftentimes) in the world of film criticism, the word "triumphant" is thrown around. It's often used to describe a film, perhaps more often a performance. I've certainly used it; it's a term I like to pull out when a film seems to go beyond the call of duty. When it's more than art, entertainment, or a combination of both. When the story, images, and characters pop off the screen and go with you, and the lasting impression left on you means something more than having killed a couple hours in a big, dark room with a bunch of strangers. Now, after watching 127 Hours, I feel I've never used "triumphant" in the correct critical context before.

James Franco's performance is simply astounding. He, as an actor, is triumphant because his character is, and because he delves into what it means to be bringing this incredible story to life on the big screen for mass consumption. This is a tough role - Franco is basically putting on a one-man show, and he does so elegantly. We feel Aron Ralston's pain because Franco feels his pain and shows it in every line of his face, verbalizes it with every sigh, and lets it control him even as he battles to take control back and find a way out of his dire situation.

It's pure, masterful art. Franco is simply flawless. Trapped by the boulder, much of his performance lies in his facial expressions, and he is able to deftly switch from desperation to comedy to a brutal will to survive, all while being barely able to move. I've rarely been so impressed by an actor's work; Franco is wholly deserving of the Oscar.

Danny Boyle's kinetic, energetic direction is a perfect match for Franco's easy-going goofiness, and even when the film becomes grounded in the narrow canyon where Ralston was trapped, Boyle always keeps things interesting. He and co-writer Simon Beaufoy weave flashbacks and hallucinations into Ralston's dilemma to great, heart-breaking effect, and the premonition that drives Ralston to finally dive whole-heartedly into amputating his own arm is breath-taking in its tenderness.

Also impressive is Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle's cinematography. Instead of letting the confined space limit their camera techniques, they tackle every possible angle, often bringing the audience uncomfortably close to the action. Shots through the bottom of Ralston's water bottle mark time and heighten the sense of urgency. The addition of home movie-style footage brings Ralston even closer to the audience; when he expresses his delayed gratitude to his family, you'll likely find yourself thinking about the last time you told your parents how much you love them. It's a great device, and is put to best use in one of the film's funniest scenes, when Ralston interviews himself Gollum-style. The combination of the dark humor, varied cinematography, and Franco's impressive facial dexterity pitch the scene perfectly; it's a lighter moment that is nevertheless grounded in the gravity of the situation.

Complementing and combining Chediak and Mantle's beautiful shots is Jon Harris's dynamic editing. The use of split-screen is particularly brilliant, put to use in innovative ways throughout the film: the bookend sequences mark Ralston's departure from and return to society, and the technique in general represents the multiple facets of a seemingly simple tale. Yes, when it comes down to it, 127 Hours is a film about a mountain climber who gets stuck under a boulder and has to cut off his own arm. But it's so much more than that. It's about a man overcoming the physical, emotional, and intellectual strains of an unthinkable situation. It's about responsibility, love, and the will to live. Above all, it's about the triumph of the human spirit, show more clearly and beautifully here than in any other film I can think of.
A completely cathartic life-or-death experience10/10
I started loving this film within the first few seconds. 127 Hours begins immediately with the sound of Fresh Blood's "Never Hear Surf Music Again" ("There must be some f*%#ing chemical, chemical in your brain, that makes us different from animals, makes us all the same." etc...) just as featured in the 1st trailer. That not-ripped-off euphoric feeling (how many times have you seen a trailer with a perfect song/music and then felt betrayed that it wasn't in the film later... yeah, me too) carried on all the way through the rest of the film.

The film has an energetic start with a split screen showing office-bound commuters/workers going along their daily drudge while our lead, x-treme biker/hiker/climber Aron Ralston (played to perfection by actor James Franco) packs his gear (unfortunately not finding his Swiss Army knife which might have made a lot of difference to him later on) for a trek into Blue John Canyon country in Utah. While on his way he has a brief fun climbing/diving/swimming interlude with two female hikers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He then heads off on his own and at about 20 minutes into the movie takes a tumble with a small boulder that ends up pinning his right arm against the side wall of the thin crevice of a canyon. And that is where we are with him for the next "127 hours" (but only 1 hour of screen time) that it takes him to get loose.

I'm not going to spoil that resolution here, although most will likely hear about it anyway before seeing the movie. An obvious clue that he survives is given by the screen credit early in the film that says it is "based on the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston". The guy must of survived if he wrote a book about it right? Well, you can survive in many ways and not all of them leave you whole (both mentally and physically).

Director Danny Boyle brings a lot of the key Oscar-winning players of the Slumdog team back for this new film. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, soundtrack composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (this time paired with Enrique Chediak) are chief among those. As an added bonus, from the director of the toilet-diving cam in Trainspotting, we now have the "desperately thirsty character saves his own urine so it can be filmed while drunk through a tube"-cam in this movie.

At the Toronto Film Festival's 2nd screening of the film, Boyle was there to take questions from the audience and his enthusiasm and excitement about the film were infectious. Tidbits included his talking about their 6 days of location shooting followed by a sound-stage recreation of the canyon based on 3D scanning imagery. Boyle also praised actor James Franco and emphasized how every time we see him in a new film he is stretching his talents and abilities, unlike many lead actors who are just basically playing themselves in various different situations.

Boyle said that for an audience to watch what would otherwise be deemed "unwatchable" you either had to be making a schlocky/not-to-be-taken-seriously horror movie OR you had to make the audience completely identify with the character to the extent that they would believe that they themselves would have done the exact same thing to save themselves if they had to. Well, Boyle succeeds in making you believe it.

Seen at the Ryerson Theatre, Toronto Sept. 13, 2010. 2nd screening of 3 at TIFF 2010.