10 January 2011

127 HOURS- Spoiler Review

Right, here's how it's going to go. The real Aron Ralston has been on This Morning to talk about his story and this film based on that story, so I assume it's pretty common knowledge. So if you've somehow avoided hearing about what happens at the end of 127 Hours and just think the trailer looks cool, my short spoiler-free review follows. Everything after the jump will contain SPOILERS.

On a basic level, I don't think 127 Hours is close to Danny Boyle's best, and I say that as a fan. His version of Aron Ralston's ordeal is sometimes more overpowering than powerful, and I'm not talking about the much-hyped violent scenes. His direction here is often over-stylised to the point that it actually distracts from the great performance by James Franco. Comparisons to Buried loom large. It's still definitely worth a look, unless your tummy is easily upset by graphic bodily harm.

SPOILERS, and my full review, will commence after the jump...

If you don't know that Ralston eventually chops his arm off and escapes to tell his story to the world, then you might just be able to suspend disbelief long enough to root for his various attempts to wriggle out of his ordeal before the fateful moment of dismemberment actually occurs. It hardly helps that the press for the film has not only made this climax apparent, but it's also sold it as the whole centrepiece of the film. The money shot. The main attraction. The gory setpiece that has reportedly moved many audience members to pass out or throw up. If you're reading this, you probably found out because someone said this was "the one where that bloke chops his arm off."
The good stuff is very, very good. After exploring greed and hedonism and poverty in previous films, Boyle grapples with something more primal in his interpretation of Ralston's story- the will to live. We wouldn't still be here if survival were not such a consistent part of human nature. As in all of his films, there are moments that embed themselves deep inside your memory and stick with you for days after seeing the film. For instance, one shot of some crazy air traffic that may or may not be hallucinated, and the altogether unexpected role of Scooby Doo. These would be the standout moments, except for how utterly brilliant the central performance is.

James Franco suffered more than most of his colleagues in the train-wreck of Spider-Man 3, and he's gone on to definitively prove how versatile he is in his last few roles before this one, which will certainly earn him an Oscar nomination that I'm still insisting should go to Ryan Reynolds for Buried. But as Aron Ralston, Franco is exuberant throughout, in both the boundless energy he musters through the first reel and in the "Help, my arm has been pinned to this rock for about five days and I think I might have to cut it off"-type desperation thereafter. I still think Ryan Reynolds' full gamut of emotion was more striking, in Buried, but it's just brilliant to watch James Franco work.

If you enjoy him that much though, you'll probably be of the opinion that Danny Boyle has let his directorial style run away with him on this one. The triptych editing technique actually disenfranchised me from Ralston's plight, the end result being that I bounded out of the cinema thinking about what a great guy James Franco is, when I was supposed to be saying the same about Aron Ralston. Boyle doesn't entirely lose the plot, as less skilled directors might have, but this ultimately turns out to be an incredible story, with an incredible lead actor, in a film that's not as good as the director's best work.

Overall, 127 Hours doesn't quite measure up to the hype, but it's still definitely worth looking at. I was taken out of or away from the frightening central predicament more than I'd like, by the frenetic style of the film. It left me feeling like I need to read Aron Ralston's book, which the film is based on, to get a full sense of everything that happened to him. In that sense, it's slightly incomplete. All the same, it's still difficult to look away from this agonising true story, unless of course the idea of cutting your arm off with a dull knife gives you the willies. Then you'll definitely look away. James Franco is brilliant, the story is awe-inspiring no matter what medium it's told in, but for as good as it is, it left me wanting just a little more.

127 Hours is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen 127 Hours, why not share your comments below? If you don't think I'd criticise this film as much if I'd gone through Ralston's ordeal, that's because I'd never have survived it. Obviously. The next time I so much as slam a door on my hand, I'm going to think of this film and ask to be euthanised so as to avoid the same ordeal.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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