Friday, 12 November 2010

Film review: 127 Hours

This will come as no surprise to those that know me, but, just for the record, I want to make it clear that I have absolutely zero interest in extreme sports. Like Evan Dando, I am no ‘outdoor type’, and I wouldn’t even lie about it. So when I first caught the ‘whoahh dude’/lucozade-ad style trailer for Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, I feared the worst.

I’ve always found these kind of characters – with their regulation fleeces, hats and Oakley wraparounds – to be, almost without fail, wearisome, ingratiating bell-ends with exceptionally poor music taste. You’ll find them prone to proselytising about ‘the rush’ and eager to impress – and potentially sleep with – your girlfriend.

In addition to this unqualified hatred, I have a palpable fear of almost anything that might put my life in danger. This meant that, even during the initial ten minutes of 127 Hours – where our central character Aaron Ralston is enjoying himself, perfectly at home dangling off cliff edges and encouraging girls he’s just met to jump off ravines – I could feel the rumblings of a panic attack coming on.

In short, I really couldn’t see how I was going to enjoy this film at all.

But not only did I thoroughly enjoy the film, I felt like I ‘experienced’ it, and I think this is key to understanding what makes it such a resounding success.

Like Buried; 2010’s other ‘man- trapped’ flick, this is a film that, in synopsis, you just can’t see working or being sustained over feature-length. Unlike that movie, Boyle’s film uses the limitations of enforced confinement to create a feeling of optimism and hope as opposed to something nightmarish and despairing. And it works brilliantly.

It’s a distinctly Boyle trait to see hope in the most despairing of situations; after all that formed the basis for his phenomenally successful Slumdog Millionaire. So he’s the perfect choice of director to essay Ralston’s real life plight. That plight is something I won’t go into here for various reasons. What’s is surprising is that I think that whether you do or don’t know what Ralston’s ultimate fate was, it works either way, leaving you queasy and uncertain regardless.

Lightening the doom, Boyle gets inside Ralston’s head as the delirium of his circumstance kicks in and it’s in these freewheeling and frequently funny interludes that the inner life of 127 Hours really kicks in

Key to making the film work, and Ralston a much more likable character than I feared, is an adrenalised, physical and surprisingly moving performance from James Franco. In lesser actors hands Ralston could’ve come across as a Point Break style tool, with fleece for brains, but the actors’ winning charm and easy nature means that you are entirely with him during the whole freaky, hideous enterprise.

I’ve always admired Danny Boyle hugely without totally loving his films (although I thought Slumdog was tremendous entrainment). I often had issues with what I see as his frequency to over-embellish with whizzy visuals and endless sound tracking.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t trust his own powerful stories enough, and he’s never met a set piece that he didn’t want to put alongside an incredibly obvious song choice. He does that a fair bit here actually, but it really heightens and benefits the mood, working in tandem with the material rather than taking you out of the picture. Boyle’s aggressive style puts you inside the mind of his protagonist perfectly, as Ralston ruminates over his thus far short – potentially very short – existence.

127 Hours doesn’t make me want to do the kind of things that Ralston did (and still does, the insane bastard) but through Boyle’s film I feel a bit closer to understanding the mindset of people who want to test themselves, in extreme circumstances, and what draws them to it. And if the film is based on truth then Aaron Ralston is both fantastically resourceful and brave as well as being, quite clearly, a nutcase. And I’m still scared to even go camping.

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