Natural disasters and human tragedies will always attract Hollywood storytellers who want to create that same intensity and drama for a box office success. When young Utah hiker Aron Ralston found himself trapped in a mountain ravine in 2003, the story of how he had to cut off his own arm to survive made news across the globe. After reading Ralston’s best-selling memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, knew this was a film he wanted to make.
The movie, 127 Hours, created buzz from the very moment it was announced, especially with competent and popular actor James Franco on board as the young Ralston. As more time went on, sneak peaks hinted that the gruesome scene where Ralston actually does cut off his arm would be so upsetting it might keep squeamish viewers away.
When 127 Hours started, I thought we were seeing a preview of another movie. Chaotic scenes with frenzied, almost psychedelic, images along with a highly irritating music score were very annoying. And did I mention LOUD? Once those scenes passed, it was easy to get into the story. Franco is compelling to watch, but the beautiful scenery also becomes a forceful attention-getter as well as something to take our minds off the inevitable and disturbing scene to come.
James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
While Ralston roams around the rock formations, he stumbles onto two giddy (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) female hikers. The three share some favorite spots together, then part. Ralston heads to an area he longs to explore further. Once there and staring down into a cavern that has less space between its rock formation than a hollowed-out redwood, Ralston starts salivating to get down inside. With his backpack full of a few essentials, he begins his descent, but within a short amount of time a loosened large rock crashes down and pins his arm to the wall.
So begins a five day ordeal of trying to survive. Flashbacks in Ralson’s mind inform us that no-one knew he was going hiking. He has no cell phone, an almost unbelievable fact today, but true. Watching Ralston squirm, run out of water, make messages on his video camera for his family, and eventually drink his own urine for five days would be tedious to watch. But Boyle broadens his story with visuals of Ralston’s dreams, hallucinations and other scenes that, unfortunately, confuse more than transition.
And then it begins. Ralston knows his time is running out as he eyes the dull blade of his knife. He starts with a few jabs to break his bone, takes a breather, and then makes more attempts before completing the act that sets him free. After listening to all the hype about this scene, I found it far less gruesome than expected – but of course it depends on one’s tolerance of such acts.
Danny Boyle & James Franco
Although it’s interesting to visualize a real\life extraordinary story, I didn’t find the film moving or a must-see one. As good as Franco (In the Valley of Elah) is at his craft, I couldn’t forget while watching him here that he’s an actor. And since Boyle starts the film with Ralston already out in the rocks alone, it never gives us a real grasp of the person he is. All the thrown-in visuals and dreadful music to heighten suspense doesn’t help us know Ralston. What was his family life like? What did he do for a living? Why did he hike without a cell phone? What did he really know about the area where he was?
A film that provided background about Ralston before his doomed day could have upped the caring /believably factor of 127 Hours. That’s the movie I wish I’d seen.
Photo credits: Chuck Zlotnick / Fox Searchlight Pictures