26 November 2010

127 Hours

James Franco is shown in a scene from "127 Hours."
Could you do it?

That is the unspoken question of "127 Hours," a riveting, life-affirming story of determination and survival from director Danny Boyle, whose last film, "Slumdog Millionaire," swept the Academy Awards two years ago.

Would you do it?

Have you truly lived your life? Appreciated the people around you, your family and friends, and the time you spent with them?

Life, even to the most indomitable of spirits, can be such a fleeting thing. It's also our most precious gift, sharing it with others.

Unlike, say, Christopher McCandless of "Into the Wild," Aron Ralston, the subject of "127 Hours," has never outright rejected the many people who care about him. But, as he nears what he thinks is the end, he can't help feeling like he took them for granted as he spent the first 27 years of his life engaging in daring ,often reckless activities, principally mountain climbing.

The film is based on Ralston's autobiographical book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," so we know he survives. His story well publicized, many already know of the extreme lengths he went to in his battle against death.

Is your life worth those efforts? Will you make the changes necessary to make it so?

In his book, Ralston includes a quote from Tyler Durden, the Brad Pitt character in "Fight Club": "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

These are the ideas Boyle and his "Slumdog" writer Simon Beaufoy trade in as they tell the story of how, in late April 2003, Ralston (James Franco) went for what should have been an easy one-day jaunt into and out of Blue John Canyon in Utah; met and aided two lost female hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) along the way; and, after parting from his new friends, dislodged a relatively small boulder (but still weighing several hundred pounds) in a narrow slot canyon, causing it to pin his right arm at the wrist, trapping him in one of the most remote places in the country.

His food and water supplies are meager, and in his most grievous oversight, he didn't tell any of his friends, family or co-workers where he was going before leaving for his mini-vacation.

The movie spends about an hour alone with Franco as Ralston, an engineer by trade and a skilled, experienced outdoorsman, tries various strategies to free himself. A multipurpose tool with a small, dull knife blade becomes more and more enticing as the hours and days pass.
Despite the action's confinement in the canyon, the movie pulses with energy drawn from Boyle's mastery of his craft and the skill of his collaborators—editor Jon Harris, composer A.R. Rahman, and cinematographers Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle, chiefly among them.

Onscreen, it is essentially Franco in a one-man show, and his charm and enthusiasm instantly win us over. He invests us so much in Ralston's fate that we spend an hour rooting, yearning for him to do the unthinkable.

Talking into a video camera he brought to document his trip, Ralston provides a running commentary to his predicament, along with his last will and testament. Franco brings a dash of dark humor to a segment in which he interviews himself, daytime-TV-talk-show-style. It ends with a single, simple, heartbreaking word after Ralston reveals that no one will know he's missing until he's been stuck for a couple days, and then it will be another 24 hours before he's officially missing by police standards, and he isn't likely to be alive when someone finally finds him: "Oops."

But even as he dreams and hallucinates, even after he consumes his last bite of food and last drop of life-giving water, the will to live never fully dissipates. Knowing the outcome does nothing to diminish the drama.

The film, of course, cannot answer the questions I posed at the start of this review. It does, however, offer encouragement, providing hope that your answers would be "yes."

Greg's Grade: A

(Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images. 94 minutes.)

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