In no way a real time, truth in advertising ordeal – thankfully! – 127 Hours is more precisely a condensed 90 minute version of the just over five day solitary real life horror in 2003 that befell Utah wilderness adventurer, Aron Ralston. And who eventually escaped certain death by cutting off his own forearm trapped beneath a rock, with a pocket knife.
And though British director Danny Boyle’s revisiting of Ralston’s already well publicized, prolonged agony pinned under a canyon boulder, may appeal neither to the squeamish nor the nosy with ambulance chaser tendencies in the movie audience, there’s possibly a different sort of timing here. That is, with this freak-out scenario arriving perhaps as inadvertent ghoulish footnote to the Halloween season.
Boyle (Trainspotting), who seems to have a fondness for tense numerical countdowns in his films following the feverishly futuristic 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire’s beat the clock game show, frames this film less as immobilized solitary doomsday despair than psychological thriller unleashed mostly from inside Ralston’s head. In this manner, Boyle sustains the spectator’s undivided attention as captive audience, fastened to a more metaphorical kind of rock that is the director’s version of the victim’s frantically paced imagination. And vividly projecting between desperate when not despondent survival instincts kicking in, memory lane nostalgia and regrets, along with a fantasy future of human encounters that may never materialize.
Transforming viscerally into that tortured vessel for the duration is James Franco, beating himself for his art as that reckless prankster personality. And abruptly humbled by the contradictory awesome beauty turned frightening indifference of the natural world. As he settles down once trapped and isolated from civilization within Blue John Canyon as gleaned from Ralston’s memoir. And involuntarily nesting and self-entertaining as best he can with only fifteen minutes of sunlight a day, a few digital contraptions lost in time, and insects and one raven for company, perhaps for eternity inside a living grave.
And in an ironic twist, symbiotic audience attention rarely strays from Franco’s heartbreaking, infinitely patient one man show. Just as the character’s own fervent focus on escape back to the human world – sometimes with humor and even his own self-styled laugh track – keeps him from succumbing to hallucinations, insanity or suicide, though never far from any of it.
Which renders the film – a few unnecessarily repetitious or only partially explained dream sequences aside, a grueling dissection of how the mind can persistently and miraculously keep the body alive. Even in its darkest 127 hours.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
3 1/2 [out of 4] stars