If it wasn’t for James Franco and director Danny Boyle, this true story of Aron Ralston, the climber who got his arm stuck between ‘a rock and a hard place’ (the title of his inspirational memoir) would simply have become another of the ‘Trapped’ sub-genre of thrillers like ‘Open Water’, ‘Frozen’ and the like.
Boyle’s big idea is to open out the action with split-screen work, dazzling cinematography and an enthralling soundtrack by A R Rahman (who he used for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’) in order to show Aron as a man whose independent free spirit has possibly managed to work against him, by making him so independent in the first place that he has ended up here.
Aron’s hopes, dreams and memories do more than just flesh out the running time – they set Aron in context, and also serve to remove him from humanity. He’s certainly a guy who prepares before setting off to run/ bike the wilderness (although the absence of a mobile phone would be unthinkable now). But the one thing he fails to do is take his Swiss army knife.
Consequently, when he becomes wedged, he has a choice – die, or amputate his arm with a blunt, cheaply made blade. Supposedly audiences in Toronto were passing out during the long arm-removal scene. I can’t think why, because Boyle isn’t making a horror film and doesn’t shoot it that way. However, the film is intense, and Franco’s committed performance – he’s on-screen for virtually every frame – stops it from being a one-note film.
’127 Hours’ plays out with a surprisingly kinetic energy. Ultimately it’s not much more than a simple tale about the determination to survive, a popular cinema staple, and it won’t work so well on a small screen – but it’s impeccably assembled and performed.