James Franco has always been an actor everyone’s been expecting to bring a brilliant, powerful performance but never has. He’s always been an actor who has mastered the art of the light-hearted. Any time he’s done things with serious heft he seems a bit out of place but the off-beat is where he’s found a niche. 127 Hours manages to combine the power that’s been waiting for him with the off-beat charisma he’s known for.
Based off the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston, 127 Hours follows Ralston (James Franco) through his week spent with his arm trapped between a boulder and a rock wall. Cutting his arm off with a utility knife, the film follows him through the ordeal from his plans for a day hike to a harrowing journey that brought him international fame. Taking off without informing anyone, Ralston’s day begins by helping out a pair of strangers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn in cameo roles) lost on the trail. Leaving them to continue on their way after some fun exploring an underground spring, Ralston’s attempt at exploring a hole ends up with his hand stuck between a boulder and no way to contact the outside world.
The film mainly functions as a one man play for Franco, his hand trapped, as Ralston alternatively looks back at the path of his life that took him there as well as contemplate the recent events of his life. It’s a nuanced, powerful performance from Franco as he manages to bring out the harrowing experience with a quiet power. This isn’t a melodramatic or showy role but that wouldn’t work in this film. This is a quiet, contemplative piece about a man who has excessive confidence in his abilities (which gets him into the problem) and cold, calculated logic about how to get out of the situation that leaves him cutting his hand off to free himself. Franco strikes the right amount of off-beat quirkiness to go with the gravitas of the moment, making us care about Ralston’s predicament without going overboard with it. Boyle has always been a director to get the right note out of his cast and with one main cast member the film has a massive portion where it’s a give and take between the two.
But it’s not merely just a film with Franco trapped in a tight place. Boyle sets up the film beautifully in the same manner he did Slumdog Millionaire, using the same crew as a matter of fact, and this is easily one of the best lensed films of the year. One of the things about Ralston’s situation is the gravity of it; it is one thing to tell a story about someone trapped without the ability of someone else to rescue them ala Buried. It’s another to show how alone in this newfound world he is. Boyle manages to do so by combining the expansive landscape with longer, singular shots. Showing Franco on a bicycle, moving through the desert, is a powerful image but he uses the opportunity to turn it into a wider shot as Ralston almost disappears into the massiveness of it all. The imagery tells the story much more than dialogue ever could and Boyle makes an interesting choice by eschewing dialogue for large parts of the film and using the landscape to tell it instead.
A key to the film is the climactic scene where, faced with certain death otherwise, Ralston makes the decision to cut off his hand. While quite graphic in nature, comparing to many recent horror films, its how Boyle sets it up that makes it more powerful. Using guitar riffs in key moments to symbolize pain, as well as using great cinematography to tell the story, it’s where Franco really shines in combination with Doyle. The two are working together smoothly, making what could be perfunctory into something painful to watch. We know going in this is how Ralston frees himself but it doesn’t view it as something to happen. It’s the culmination of a logical thought process by someone who doesn’t want to die by himself like this, all alone. It’s built to with a methodical precision by Boyle, going from something far-fetched to the logical outcome over the span of Ralston’s entrapment.
It’s always interesting to see the projects a director will take after winning an Oscar. Danny Boyle chose well as 127 Hours is another in a long line of brilliant film-making from the Oscar winner.
Director: Danny Boyle Notable Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn Writer(s): Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle based off the novel “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.