EVERY SECOND COUNTS.
When Danny Boyle and his team decided to make a movie about the most dramatic event of Aron Ralston’s life, those five days when he was trapped in a canyon until he cut off his arm to escape, they dramatized the meeting between Ralston and two women in a way that wasn’t true to what really happened. Ralston felt uncomfortable about it, but gave the script his blessing – after all, every other detail of his 127 hours down in the canyon was correct. When the movie was made and he was asked at a Q&A in Toronto what he thought of James Franco’s performance, Ralston choked up. Is there a better endorsement?
The year is 2003. Mountain climber and adventurer Aron Ralston (Franco) heads out to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah for a hiking trip. He’s well prepared, bringing his mountain bike and a backpack full of everything he needs, including a high-adrenaline soundtrack. Along the way he meets two young women, Kristi and Megan (Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn), who are lost; after showing them where to go he also takes them deeper into the Bluejohn Canyons where they swim in an underground lake.
When they finally go separate ways, he slips on a rock a short while afterwards and falls into a crevice where his right arm is trapped by a boulder. Every attempt to move it is futile. He’s too far down the crevice for anyone to hear his screams. In the end, Aron does everything he can to survive for as many days as possible…
Director Boyle aimed for a more intimate film after making the sprawling Slumdog Millionaire (2008), but he understood the challenge of filming Ralston’s book. The guy was in the canyon for five days – how do you turn that into something that works on film? He decided to make it as close to an action movie as possible, once again hiring the extraordinary cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (along with Enrique Chediak) and editor Jon Harris (who had worked on The Descent (2005)). He also reunited with A.R. Rahman who wrote the score for Slumdog Millionaire.
In creative, playful ways, this team introduces the lead character and makes us understand him as a likable adrenaline junkie who could have done nothing to prevent this disaster from ever happening… except for telling his parents where he was going and when he would be back, something he touchingly relates to in one of the little films he shot with his camcorder in the crevice when all he could do was prepare to die. When Aron is dreaming, fantasizing and even hallucinating as the hours go by, Boyle’s team is there to make those images of his parents, former girlfriend and even Kristi and Megan as vivid and real as possible.
As Aron is slowly making a decision on what to do, we in the audience are also adjusting to the inevitable – the amputation scene is nauseating, but horribly realistic. We can’t imagine the pain, but Boyle urges us to try. The technical qualities are very high, but Franco’s tour-de-force performance makes the experience even more memorable. His character may have moments in the crevice where he falls victim to fatigue, fear of death, self-pity and anger, but the sheer strength within him is so humbling.
The ending is highly emotional, once again underscored by the individual achievements of Franco, Dod Mantle/Chediak, Harris and Rahman… but they wouldn’t work as well in concert without Boyle, the conductor. 127 Hours may be a smaller film than Slumdog Millionaire, but just as majestic an experience.
127 Hours 2010-U.S.-Britain. 94 min. Color. Produced by Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, John Smithson. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy. Book: Aron Ralston (“Between a Rock and a Hard Place”). Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle, Enrique Chediak. Music: A.R. Rahman. Song: “If I Rise” (A.R. Rahman, Rollo Armstrong, Dido). Editing: Jon Harris. Cast: James Franco (Aron Ralston), Amber Tamblyn (Megan), Kate Mara (Kristi), Clémence Poésy, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan… Treat Williams.
Trivia: Cillian Murphy was allegedly considered for the lead.
Last word: “I learned about being a bit looser. Normally, I’m a very controlling director. Directors ARE controlling. It’s part of the job, but there’s various degrees of it and the constructs I normally work on are very controlling constructs. […] I knew in doing a solo film like this, that you couldn’t control an actor. If an actor looked controlled or manipulated in any way, it would just collapse the thing and I’d seen Darren Aronofsky’s [‘The] Wrestler’, which I liked very much and I remember thinking when I saw it ‘cause I like Darren’s work and he’s, as a director, he’s not unlike me. He likes to manipulate the camera and the screen and get a bit of sparkle going and, visually, and things like that. But I remember him making this plain film with Mickey (Rourke) at the center of it. Boom. Mickey was absolutely generating the film and I thought, ‘I’d like to make a film like that’.” (Boyle, Collider)