127 Hours swiftly counts down every enduring hour to its grotesquely effective amputation. Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Smooth slot canyons, intricately weaving through the desolate landscape, bask in the beating sunlight. Its burning rays illuminating the curvaceous formations that guide hikers to their idyllic destination. Aron Ralston, an adventurous mountaineer, one day journeys across the park. Befriending fellow backpackers, presenting them with natural wonders kept hidden from sight. Underground pools harnessing crystal clear water, just a leap of faith away. After a joyous separation, he lonesomely traverses Bluejohn Canyon. Hurtling over deceased wood and precarious boulders. He slips. A loosened large boulder follows his trajectory. Falling from gracious heights, Aron’s right hand becomes wedged in ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’. He cries for urgent assistance. But only his echoes reply. With limited supplies, time was running out. Aron, confronted with destiny, must overcome his own mentality to succumb to the inevitable action that would free his temporary imprisonment.
Boyle’s adaptation of Ralston’s biographical memoir, initially, resembled the standardisation of trapped thrillers. One individual with a select amount of tools at their disposal must escape from the claustrophobic location that is holding them custody. An engrossing central performance, undoubtedly Franco’s best dramatic endeavour thus far, allows the particular central character to experience an array of emotions from determination to desperation, before developing a moral compass that had since been disregarded. These enclosed survival thrillers have been executed before. However, what enables 127 Hours to stand above the competition and garner several Academy Award nominations in the process, is Boyle’s direction. It’s a pure example of exuberance elevating a simplistic yet solidly constructed personable ordeal. He is able to embed an urban aesthetic, despite the rural environment, that increases the core frenetic energy throughout.
Aron gulping on the slowly diminishing water supply is made increasingly apparent by employing a camera within the bottle itself. Aron chipping away parts of the boulder with an inexpensive multi-tool or him pushing the obstacle with his entire body force, are made inclusively exhausting through camera actions that jolt forward with each momentous push. The gorgeous aerial footage capturing the endless horizons of the National Park, securing his unfortunate solidarity. Harris’ signature editing stylistics, notably the split screen time lapses of fast-moving society, illustrating Ralston’s putrefying mentality whilst maintaining Boyle’s metropolitan buoyancy. All culminating in a visceral scene that invades every sense available. The inevitable amputation that audiences were fainting over, even before the film was theatrically released. It’s an impeccable reaction, not due to the biographical nature of 127 Hours, but the invasive filming style. The piercing sound effects when Ralston slashes a tendon and the abrupt camera rotation when he initially breaks the arm. Perfect examples of employing realistic imagination without displaying the act’s gratuitous gore in its entirety. Such directorial flair that, not only visually engages, but narratively powers through the sparse screenplay.
127 Hours is unsurprisingly only eight-nine minutes in length. The first ten minutes introduces Ralston through a dutch angled bike ride across the park (Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ anyone?) before presenting the main claustrophobic event. The initial problem with this, is that the emotional connectivity with the central character takes precious time to develop. Time that unfortunately this feature does not have the luxury of expending. It’s not until the third act when you start cheering for his survival, and that’s an issue. Flashbacks and premonitions are embedded throughout to grant some much needed characterised background, however the harrowing ordeal of his physical pain overwhelms the tender interior experiences. Had there been additional introductory development, these succinct moments would’ve been substantially more effective. Franco also occasionally seemed somewhat unrealistically calm in several situations, in particular the day transitions when Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’ would ironically play, which lacked an authentic continuity.
Still, Boyle will always remain as a leading director in visual storytelling. With that, 127 Hours may just be his most personable and audacious feature yet. As a depiction of brute survival, enlisting the tactics of claustrophobic film-making, it’s a resounding success that will leave viewers wanting a solid 127 hour runtime. The personal touches however required more development in order to make Ralston a hugely relatable individual. We can all agree on one lesson though. Never go mountaineering by yourself, and certainly tell someone where you have gone...