Staff Recommendation: 127 Hours

Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews 127 Hours

It’s genuinely hard to imagine your arm being trapped under a rock for a hundred and twenty seven hours in the middle of nowhere, with only a video camera, some climbing rope, one bottle of water and two supermarket burritos at your disposal. But Danny Boyle – a dab hand at throwing a film together these days – has a damn good go at putting you in adrenaline junkie Aron Ralston (James Franco)’s shoes, and pretty much succeeds in doing so on every level.

127 Hours makes perfect use of the time it has been given – a brisk 94 minutes, starting at a breakneck pace and not letting up, even after Ralston’s arm gets trapped between a rock and a hard place (the title of the autobiographical book the film is based on). It also marks a return to a style Boyle arguably hasn’t used since Trainspotting; this is no all-singing, all-dancing Slumdog Millionaire follow-up the Academy were no doubt hoping for, but a stripped-back, low-key flick with a stylish dream sequence or three thrown in for good measure. It would’ve been easy for Boyle to break away from the non-action almost entirely with these dream sequences, but while these are employed relatively frequently, you never once feel like you’re detached from the terrifying situation at hand (no pun intended). It’s a testament to the performance of Franco as the increasingly desperate Ralston that – despite knowing the outcome – he keeps you gripped from beginning to end as he slowly comes to terms with the reality of his situation, and what he will have to do in order to survive.

In keeping with a handful of other recent cinematic outings such as Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried and Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, 127 Hours has immense fun with its premise, despite how bleak the reality must really have been. Buried pushes the limits of its audience by not once leaving the confines of Ryan Reynold’s coffin six feet under the Iraqi desert, and Lebanon only allows the opening and closing shots to be filmed from outside a battered tank manned by four beleaguered soldiers during the 1982 Lebanese war. Boyle breaks free of such experimental shackles with Ralston’s dreams and visions, but they never feel contrived or forced – they offer up a respite the film needs, in order to prepare you for the moment he decides to self-amputate. Whilst much has been made of the visceral nature of these scenes, they never overstep the mark in terms of what’s needed for the film – what I found more distressing was Ralston describing the moment himself in Desperate Days in Blue John Canyon, a feature-length NBC documentary following Ralston as he returns, after only six months, to the scene of his ordeal. It makes a great companion piece to the film, and is well worth a watch if you want to see just how close Boyle, Franco and Simon Beaufoy (co-screenwriter) got to the reality of his experience.

If you feel you’re up to 127 Hours on the big screen, I would most certainly recommend it!