Danny Boyle, the director behind the just released 127 HOURS, has a hard-on for the human spirit. His movies are like a drug-induced version of National Geographic. Boyle’s stories contain characters who possess an enthusiastic fervor for the adventurous side of life. They take place in diverse locales that are portrayed through a hyper-realistic and vibrant aesthetic. Like his characters, Danny Boyle explores new genres, different filmmaking techniques, and vastly different narratives with each film. To watch TRAINSPOTTING, SHALLOW GRAVE, THE BEACH, 28 DAYS LATER, MILLIONS, SUNSHINE, and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, it is remarkable to think that all of these films were made by the same person. I have always had a love/hate relationship with Boyle’s films. At times I have absolutely dug the hell out of the auteur’s movies (TRAINSPOTTING and SHALLOW GRAVE) whereas other times I have either been torn or have flat out hated what’s been put out (A LIFE LESS ORDINARY, THE BEACH, and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE). Nonetheless, the release of a new Danny Boyle movie continues to be somewhat of an event for me because regardless of how I end up feeling about the film, I’m never bored by Boyle’s work and there is always something to admire. With that said, I highly anticipated 127 HOURS, especially following its critical acclaim at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. Perhaps I had exceedingly high expectations going into the movie, but in the end I couldn’t help but be ultimately underwhelmed by Danny Boyle’s latest movie.

127 HOURS is the true story of mountain climber and caverneer Aron Ralston (James Franco), an adventurous and carefree young man whose hand gets trapped by a boulder while hiking in Utah. Unable to budge the big rock or call for help, Ralston commits the next best thing: he cuts off his arm to free himself. 127 HOURS is based on Ralston’s account of his ordeal in his autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

I have not read Ralston’s book, but considering that it is an autobiography and as such it does not fit within the classic 3-act narrative structure of a screenplay, adapting the book for the screen probably presented a challenge for Boyle and Simon Beaufoy. If the film represents a faithful adaptation of the book, then its probably safe to assume that the book contains a lot of introspection by the character and reflections upon his life. The film tries to fit the book into a 3-act structure and it succeeds in doing so in the sense that the writers were able to find the necessary turning points to set up three acts. However, the writers fall short in maintaining the momentum of the story. 127 HOURS begins interestingly enough by introducing Aron Ralston as a charming, free spirited, and adventurous young man and setting up the physical environment that Ralston will become trapped within. The film continues to hold your attention for the first 48 hours of Ralston’s dire dilemma as he attempts to move the boulder through various means and assesses the realities of his situation.

Where the film begins to lose its momentum is when Ralston begins to reflect upon his life. He looks back to his childhood and his relationship with his parents and sister. He thinks about his adolescent experiences with girls and blown chances with recent relationships. Ralston spends a lot of time soul-searching and wishful thinking/fantasizing on escaping. Boyle presents all of this through a combination of flashbacks and the employment of nonlinear narrative devices to reveal his character’s psyche. Boyle resorts to something similar in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, but in that film the characters’ pasts are more linearly presented within the narrative whereas here, Boyle finds an opportunity to go more experimental. That’s all fine and good, but in the process, Boyle loses his audience. I’m not suggesting that Boyle should have ignored Ralston’s book and stuck with giving us a more linear story. If this is what actually happened to Ralston, then Boyle did well in being faithful to Ralston’s account. However, I think Boyle could have told the same story without sacrificing the momentum and suspense of the movie. The director spends too much time on Ralston’s reflections. We are repeatedly shown the character’s life regrets such as not spending enough time with his parents, being too selfish and not allowing others to enter into his life. Once is enough to get the point across, but the sequences turn into a skipping record after awhile and my mind began to wander away from the film.

Had 127 HOURS been directed by anyone else, I would have faulted the book instead of the director for being unable to maintain the film’s momentum. However, this is not the first time that Danny Boyle has fucked up the flow of his movies. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE had the same problem in which the film turns into something entirely different after Jamal’s brother becomes a gangster and Jamal attempts to save his girlfriend. The movie went from being a charming coming-of-age urban fairy tale to a Scarface Bollywood thriller. In 28 DAYS LATER, the second half of the film mostly takes place inside a castle that’s run by a paramilitary organization. The film falls apart at that point whereas before it, we are treated to an exciting horror suspense that takes place in the deserted, zombie-ridden streets of London. 127 HOURS doesn’t undergo the same sort of radical transformation as those films, but like them, you become bored by the character’s predicament and by then you just want him to cut his fucking arm off and be done with it. That’s not how I should have felt toward the end of the film. In fact, I should have felt the agony and torment Ralston had to go through to finally conclude that the only way out would be to cut his arm off.

A good movie to compare 127 HOURS to is the recently released, but little seen, BURIED with Ryan Reynolds. That film was also about an individual who finds himself stuck in one place and with no way to get out. Granted, that film was a fictional story and Reynolds’ character is constantly interacting with other characters through his cell phone. However, not once does the director let up in maintaining the suspense of the story. From the first frame to the last, you are completely with the character and wondering whether or not he’s going to survive. Boyle had an opportunity to create a similar experience, but he unfortunately squanders it.

The best thing about 127 HOURS is James Franco. Franco’s career has made a meteoric rise over the past decade and his future seems to be looking brighter than ever (in 2011, Franco will be starring in YOUR HIGHNESS and RISE OF THE APES). Aron Ralston seems to be a pretty charismatic, outgoing, and positive person, which is how Franco has always struck me based on interviews I have seen and read. Its impossible to not like Ralston and a part of you wishes that you could become more like him despite the later revealed personality flaws he seems to have. The character wears a Phish t-shirt, which if you know anything about Phish fans, you have a perfect idea of what Aron Ralston is like. Outdoorsy, carefree, open to any kind of experience, hippy, and unconventional. Franco admirably pulls off showing all these attributes. However, where Franco really shines is showing the torment and resilience of being trapped under a rock. Franco doesn’t ham it up in the least bit and adds to the authenticity of his performance through the effective use of humor. To both Danny Boyle’s and Franco’s credit, Ralston is not portrayed in the most perfect light. I was especially struck by this as Ralston’s portrayal reminded me much of INTO THE WILD. My biggest issue with that film was that no criticism was made of Christopher McCandless’ decision to abandon his family with barely a clue as to his whereabouts. The film lauded his decision to shirk off a materialistic lifestyle without commenting upon McCandless’ irresponsibility and selfishness. 127 HOURS directly addresses this and for that I appreciated and respected Ralston much more as a person.

127 HOURS is not a bad movie by any means and I don’t want to give anyone that impression. It’s a beautifully shot movie (it will make you want to visit Utah immediately even though you run the risk of getting your hand fucked by a rock) that employs a diverse and creative use of the camera by Danny Boyle. Considering the majority of the film takes place inside a canyon with a dude trapped by a rock, Boyle uses every camera trick in his bag to maintain visual interest and he pulls this off beautifully. If you’ve seen Boyle’s past films, you will know what to expect visually from this movie. I was a little disappointed that 127 HOURS didn’t contain a memorable film score like Boyle’s past movies. The opening song is pretty good, but the rest of the movie had an altogether forgettable soundtrack, which is uncharacteristic of Boyle. All in all, 127 HOURS is a decent enough, but flawed effort that looks great and is acted great.

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