Danny Boyle offers a different and dissenting voice in film, directing with sharp originality. Unfortunately, “127 Hours” offers no supporting evidence for this belief. Having now seen it twice, I note that parts of the film have stayed with me, although it isn’t a story with universal appeal
It’s as if there are three, disjointed movies cobbled together. The first part is about Aron Ralston’s usual weekend hiking trips. There are compelling action scenes in beautiful mountain locations. You get the sense of a rather callow and arrogant young man who believes he is invincible and tells nobody where he is going.
Does Danny Boyle have a purpose in this? Is he drawing out an allegory about American feelings of supremacy and war? At their best, some scenes – meeting two female hikers and flashbacks to a hedonistic lifestyle – appear to support this idea.
Then, the flavour and pace change. After an accident, Ralston survives for five days in an isolated cave. You probably already know that part of how he escapes is grisly and not for the squeamish. I have watched operations and autopsies – don’t ask, long story – and I can assure you that the accuracy of bone, flesh and blood is a great deal truer than anything I would choose to watch again.
However, the will to survive and the surreal way in which private thoughts are captured really does make this a bit special and worth persisting with. The Stratford Picturehouse audience was, clearly, not made up of medics and there was a chorus of “yeuw” around the room at the crucial scene.
Wild and fanciful memories, as photographed here, have the trademark Boyle hallucinogenic feel and contrast sharply to the plight of our hero. James Franco is utterly compelling as Ralston, making you forget that he is acting each bit of pain. You are with him in his dilemma.
But the tone shifts sharply again and becomes about the basics of survival. It’s puzzling. As Tom Roberts said, it’s a little picture”. Yet the details haunt you and make you remember and think about the story.
I liked it a lot better on the second viewing, when I knew what was going to happen and could focus on the landscapes and Aron’s fighting of the elements. I am very glad that Mother Nature has taken me to beautiful mountains by myself but very grateful I have never had to deal with anything like this set of challenges.
It’s mostly, if you will excuse the pun, a one-armed piece with Franco by himself. I am a little distressed to learn that Treat Williams and Kate Burton are now considered old enough to play the hero’s parents, but that’s just me.
Pretty people and places and the messy bits don’t add up to very much. There is a much better movie struggling to get out of this picture. Time passes quickly and there is no spare scene that could have been cut. The use of music is good too.
I am left feeling that Boyle was somehow reined in and did not make the picture he wanted to. There is something missing here and I cannot figure out what it might be. It’s recommended if you can handle realistic gore and if you love climbing and hiking. Otherwise, skip it.