Now this is something special. A film that is for the majority set in one location and yet could very well be the most emotionally powerful movie of 2011, even though we are only a few weeks in.
127 Hours is the true story about Aaron Ralston, a loner adrenalin junkie spending the weekend climbing through canyons in Utah when he suddenly gets his arm trapped by a boulder. As each attempt to free himself fails, Aaron finds his mental and physical state starting to deteriorate until he has to make a decision between keeping his life, or keeping his arm.
Straight from the off we get the feel that this is a Danny Boyle film. The choice of music, the split screen over various images of groups of people all huddled together, from football (sorry, soccer) fan crowds to people travelling up an escalator. It is an early indication of a key theme - that Aaron even from the beginning is all alone. This is of his own doing however, as we see in the course of the film. When we first meet Aaron he is getting ready for his trip, completing ignoring his mother leaving him a message on his answer machine.
The only genuine human contact we see Aaron having is with two young girls that have got lost in the canyon. Even while showing off his climbing skills and knowledge of the canyon which results in him dropping a great height into a lake, you still get the feeling that Aaron isn't really with them. "I don't think we figure into his day at all" one of them says, summing his mental state perfectly. When Aaron does get trapped by the boulder however, not answering his mother's call and the video recorded memories of the two girls suddenly become the most important thing in the world to him. He is a man fighting a long 127 hour battle against his own mortality.
Of course mortality is a big theme in this movie, but possibly more importantly it is a movie about denial. When Aaron gets stuck and we see the size of the rock and the size of Aaron, we knew there is only one way for him to get out of there. As he tries to chip away at the boulder desperately, we can see in his eyes that he knows there is only one way out. At one point he stabs himself in the trapped arm with his blunt knife brutally, as though he trying to ease himself into it.
While Boyle's direction is as always uniquely compelling, it is James Franco who lights up the screen. A more cynical person would say that it's because most of the other characters have barely 5 minutes on screen each, but if anything it makes Franco's job even harder. It is however a superbly acted decent from daredevil show off, to hallucinating mental and physical wreck. Ralston's video camera plays a huge part in the plot as he documents the events of each day as he goes along. The fact that these video accounts are based on, if not exactly like, the one's the real Aaron Ralston filmed, makes it all the more unnerving and intriguing.
There is a defining moment in this film when you know it is going to be something to remember. As the first twenty minutes or so go by, and Ralston is moving through the canyon alone after departing company with the two young girls, the rock finally falls and traps him against the canyon wall. We see Ralston's expression, hear nothing but silence, and then see the title 127 Hours appear in the shadows on the left hand side of the screen. Wonderfully done.
VERDICT: Grippingly realistic and incredibly emotional, Danny Boyle firmly stamps his name down as a runner for yet another contender for the Best Director Oscar, and James Franco surely now is a certainty for a Best Actor nomination at the very least.