Sunday, January 30, 2011

[REVIEW] - 127 Hours

Sometimes, stories that are bred out of the headlines can be a mixed bag when being converted to the big screen.

With various biopics hitting on both the great side (Ali pops into mind) and less-than-great side (Walk The Line is a perfect example of this) of the quality spectrum, there may not be a single more difficult task within the world of film than attempting to make a single entities’ time on this earth interesting cinematically.

However, in the hands of someone like Danny Boyle, the life, or at least one moment within that very life, of canyoner Aaron Ralston has, conceptually, the makings for a film that would land on the plus side of that sliding scale. You have a single moment of one man’s life, a stunningly gifted filmmaker, and a harrowing tale of true human strength and perseverance, all with one of today’s more interesting actors, James Franco, as the top billed acting talent. How could this ever possibly go wrong one would think?

Well, despite becoming something of a pop culture entity, with various reports of patrons fainting during festival and theatrical screenings of the film (and even more reports of ambulances being placed outside of those very screenings), it has also become one of this year’s most upsetting disappointments of the year.

127 Hours, the latest film from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire), follows a mountain climber named Aron Ralston, who after heading out to the canyons outside of Moab, Utah, becomes trapped after his arm becomes stuck between a canyon wall and a boulder. Ralston, who neglected to inform those in his life where he would be during the trip, then must resort to whatever measure he possibly can to free himself. The film is based on Ralston’s autobiography, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, and has become one of 2010’s biggest Oscar players.

However, it’s also one of its bigger messes.

The real star of this film is James Franco, who not only gives the single greatest performance of his young career, but gives far and away the year’s best male performance, at least at this point. Ralston is a truly charismatic young man, who is not only an adventurous young soul, but one who doesn’t fit within the normal constraints of the real world. The rugged terrain of a mountain or canyon are the places this free spirit calls home, and those he comes across, like two perky young girls he meets during the extent of this film, are simply fleeting moments of social interaction.

Those very words are oozed out of every pore by Franco here, who brings a completely fleshed out take on this man, and in turn, gives us one of the most breathtakingly heartbreaking performances of the year. Drenched in so much energy, and yet so much regret and melancholy, the film may seem like your run of the mill Gatorade commercial at the outset, but with the film’s true narrative starting once the boulder falls, the film shifts into something holistically flawed, but performance wise, utterly stunning.

Rounding out the film’s main cast are a trio of actresses; Lizzy Caplan (Ralston’s sister Sonja), Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, the latter two playing the hiking duo of Megan and Kristi, two young girls Aron meets before becoming trapped. While none of these three are given anything to do (particularly Caplan), both Mara and Tamblyn add a bit of life to a film that while it may not need it, definitely enjoys its company. Other than that, the film is the James Franco show, and for that, it’s wholly worth your time and money.

That said, the film’s other point of interest, director Danny Boyle, doesn’t quite live up to his end of the deal.

Following up his rather cliché and uninteresting pile of slop better known as the 2008 award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle continues his streak of MTV style filmmaking that while entertaining, does this film, much like it did Slumdog, a complete disservice. The equivalent of a Mountain Dew commercial on steroids put together by a doctor on acid, 127 Hours is a visual feast of a film, that is ultimately undone due to the overwhelming style that Boyle instills in this film.
The primary flaw in the filmmaking here is twofold, but falls under one deciding factor: artifice. Featuring a cavalcade of jarring cinematic staples like obnoxiously off-putting product placement, and the ever present dream sequence, the film ultimately feels just like that, a film, thanks to Boyle’s love for overbearing moments that are as cliché as anything that word’s ever helped describe.

127 Hours opens perfectly. You get a beautifully poetic coda, set to some lively music from Free Blood, looking at people going about their days, in the hustle and bustle world known as their lives. Then, we jump into that very same thing, but for Ralston, a man who doesn’t deem it important to hold himself to those boundaries that others do. However, from there we get a series of moments ranging from simply cliché dream sequences, to truly silly moments of premonition, that instead of adding to the overall experience, remind the viewer that yes, this thing that is in front of them is indeed a film. Toss in an equally intrusive score from composer A. R. Rahman, and you have the makings of a relatively mediocre mess of a exercise in hamfisted filmmaking.

That all said, the film is ultimately saved by not only a great, Oscar-worthy performance, but an equally fantastic script. The film is inherently about human nature and the extent to which any of us would go to not only live and see our loved ones again, but to try, in any way possible, save the relationships that make us human, and that comes across perfectly in this film. It may be the great performance, but the screenplay, from Boyle and writing partner Simon Beaufoy, is quite stunning. Dual cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak (the former continuing his career long streak of brilliant visual pieces such as Antichrist and In The Mood For Love) and while the film as a whole may be a mess, there are more than enough to warrant a viewing.

Overall, 127 Hours ultimately succeeds and being a stunning performance piece, but fails equally at being an interesting and visually compelling piece of filmmaking. Featuring a brilliant performance from Franco, and equally stunning cinematography and writing, the film isn’t a dreadful watch, just a true disappointment best saved for a rental. With all the makings in the world to be one of the best biopics cinema has yet seen, instead of leaving me thinking about what I had just seen, I was left thinking what could have been if it were in someone else’s hands.

Werner Herzog is calling, he wants the film he was born to make back.

127 HOURS – 7/10

Go see something good!

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