127 Hours (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

127 Hours, on the other hand, allows you to get lost in the story, and Boyle and Franco make you feel all the pain and desperation that Ralston goes through.

I’ve had a very strange relationship with Danny Boyle as an artist. I saw his 1996 film Trainspotting in the theatre when I was 15 years old, and it wound up being a formative experience for me; to this day it remains one of my all-time favorite movies. However, everything Boyle’s done before or since Trainspotting I have disliked to varying degrees. Sure, 2002’s 28 Days Later and 2007’s Sunshine were both kind of all right, but both left something to be desired. And even Slumdog Millionaire, which was nearly universally admired and of course won the Oscar for Best Picture among other things, really just pissed me off. And now we have his new film, 127 Hours, arriving on a tidal wave of hype and starring one of my favorite young actors, James Franco.
I am happy to report that, for the first time since Trainspotting, I feel like I can say that I liked a Danny Boyle film without qualifying the statement. (That is not to say that I liked it even half as much as Trainspotting, but that’s an impossible standard of comparison.) And my liking of Franco aside, 127 Hours doesn’t really seem like the type of movie I’d like, which makes my admiration of the film all the more impressive. It’s based on the well-known true story of canyoneer Aron Ralston, who fell into a tight spot with a boulder pinning him down by the arm, some 65 feet under ground level and nearly ten miles from anything that could help him, such as other people, his vehicle or food. All this when no one in the world knew where he was, so even if people noticed he was missing no one would really have the slightest idea of where to find him.
Ralston’s personality is one that I can’t entirely get on board with; it’s cool that he’s a loner, but he’s also more of a jock (albeit an atypical one) than a film critic like me can ever fully appreciate. Furthermore, you’re basically stuck there along with him for the duration of the movie, so if you don’t like him, you essentially don’t like the movie. That’s where Franco’s acting skills and natural charisma come in. He makes a believable character you can relate to and want to see succeed, even if you basically can’t remotely relate to any aspect of his story.
Danny Boyle is known for making fast-paced, particularly visceral movies, and this style couldn’t be better suited to this material. Compare 127 Hours to the also much-lauded and in many ways very similar 2003 film Touching the Void. Touching the Void purported to be a documentary but was filled with recreations of the events, which proved very distancing and sort of insulting. 127 Hours, on the other hand, allows you to get lost in the story, and Boyle and Franco make you feel all the pain and desperation that Ralston goes through. I knew the gist of Ralston’s story going into this film, as I expect a lot of its audience will, and in fact Ralston gets trapped down in that canyon so early on in the film’s running time that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was going to be a Passion of the Christ-style buffet of bodily abuse for the remainder of the running time.
Beyond the fact that I liked this film, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and that this is the first Danny Boyle film in over a decade that I have liked, it’s important to note that the reason that I did like this film was because it was a Danny Boyle film. I don’t think another director could have pulled it off. And that makes me feel good about his career; piece of shit that Slumdog Millionaire may have been, if its success allows Boyle the freedom to make films like this with minimal interference, that will have made it all worthwhile. | Pete Timmermann

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