Film review: 127 Hours

127 Hours
Cloud Eight Films, HandMade Films International

STARRING James Franco, Clémence Poésy, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Darin Southam
WRITTEN BY Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) based on Aron Rolsten’s book ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’
PRODUCED BY Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, John Smithson

SHOT BY Anthony Dod Mantle, Enrique Chediak
EDITED BY Jon Harris
MUSIC BY A. R. Rahman
DISTRIBUTED BY Fox Searchlight Pictures

Screened 2010-10-07

I recall hearing, in 2003, about some man who went hiking… out west, somewhere… became trapped, drank his own piss and was forced to lop off his arm to survive. And only a few days ago, perhaps in response to rumblings in the collective unconscious, I arbitrarily viewed 2003’s Touching the Void, the story of two mountain climbers who faced death in the Andes. That film couldn’t really be more different than 127 Hours, based on Aron Rolsten’s horrific 2003 mishap out in Utah. Danny Boyle, filled with aimless and seemingly boundless energy, had been immediately attracted to cinematizing Rolsten’s story, and given his interpretation I’m starting to see why. Rolsten is portrayed – wonderfully by Franco – as adventurous, unstoppable, brimming with joie de vivre, and with one of those contemporarily retarded attention spans… Boyle in a nutshell. Boyle seems ready to take on anything, and obviously at this point he’s riding as high as he may ever ride. So as Franco/Rolsten, he sprints out into the wild. And then, perhaps, Boyle is self-reflexive enough to stop and not take a moment of his orgasmic ride for granted. 127 Hours, tight and streamlined, leaves a viewer with the reminder that no man is an island, and no matter how ambitious one may be, no matter how prepared, one simply cannot be an adventurer and expect to live long without help. The price Rolsten must pay for this wisdom, according to Boyle’s narrative, is a pound of flesh.

Everything cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle puts his lens to seems to appreciate, and Mantle seems to be the perfect foil to Boyle’s energy. “Alright, in a flash, we need a shot of his hand moving across some rocks, but it needs to be beautiful. Now we need a shot of him standing there, not doing anything, and it needs to be beautiful.” Etc. It’s a very pretty film. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, one is left with very very little time to take in the surroundings, as Boyle’s portrait is one of a man raised in consuming American sprawl, and as Ralston slips into and battles mounting psychosis, it’s unsurprising that his mind should wander to TV jingles, commercials, and those endless tunes pumped through one’s headphones. Boyle pulls out every single idea, every angle, every seeming iteration that we could expect for a man who stands in the same place for 90% of a film. At first this proved quite distracting, but I realized that when self-amputation is on the menu, perhaps emptying out everything one can think of, resorting to every possible alternate situation, might seem necessary. And when that moment of judgment arrives – as you know it will – Boyle’s possibly superficial interpretation suddenly came into glaring relief. He kept a healthy sense of humor, revalued all things, and managed to remain attractive through the whole affair… a hearty reminder that one should always be ready for other people.

written by David Ashley