The movie 127 Hours opens with a lone mountain climber biking and hiking through a valley near Utah. On his journey he has a brief encounter with two fellow hikers played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara. At first you may think this movie is going to be in the spirit of Into the Wild, telling the story of a man's expedition through the wilderness and the people he meets along the way. The audience is then swooped into a completely different movie as the mountain climber falls down a canyon and his right arm is crushed by a bolder. The screen reads 127 Hours, verifying that this is going to be an extraordinary story about survival.
This man is Aron Ralston, a real-life mountain climber who experienced the events of this movie first hand. Aron tries to free himself though fruitlessly tugging and even making a pulley device with some rope to lift the rock. It is no use though. His water supplies is limited and, even worse, he disregarded to tell any of his friends or family where he was going. The only option Aron has is to amputate his arm. Even that seems fruitless though, seeing how he left his army knife at home and only has a dull knife on him.
Aron is played by James Franco, who seemed to be taking a major step backwards in his career by doing a reoccurring role on General Hospital. Now Franco comes back with a performance that may very well earn him his first Best Actor nomination, redefining his true range as a performer. Franco is 100 percent authentic as Aron, fully embodying the human drama of his character's predicament.
At times Franco resembles Tom Hanks in Cast Away. But instead of talking to volleyball, Aron's one companion is his video camera. Through his camera Aron expresses his regrets in life and, in a heartbreaking scene, says goodbye to his loved ones, confident that he won't make it out alive. In a few concise flashbacks we delve into Aron's failed romantic relationships and his need to be self-sufficient that has led him to this bleak state.
Director Danny Boyle previous brought us the pitch perfect Slumdog Millionaire, which rightfully won him the Directing Academy Award. With his follow-up film Boyle delivers another unexpectedly uplifting entertainment. Although most of the film takes place in that remote canyon, Boyle still captures different shots that are beyond belief. A few months ago I was ready to serve Wally Pfister of Inception the Best Cinematography award on a silver platter. After witnessing Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak's feat of camera work here though, there may be some heavy competition come Oscar Sunday.
One film that 127 Hours is bound to draw comparison to is Buried, an overlooked independent feature in which Ryan Reynolds is trapped in a coffin for the entire running time. Both films are terrific in their own respect. Buried is really more in the tradition of a Hitchcockian thriller. While 127 Hours is a far more optimistic film, or at least as optimistic as any film can be about a man confronted with the options of amputation or death. That's simply the magic of Boyle as a filmmaker. He can start off a film with something as tragic as a little Indian boy's mother dying or a young man getting crushed by a bolder. By the end of the movie though, Boyle leaves you with a stimulating feeling of hope.