Dialogue Review – 127 Hours
Brandi Sperry: With the release of his new film 127 Hours, I think it’s just gotten even harder not to acknowledge Danny Boyle as a maker of some of the most engrossing films of the last 15 years. Whether or not the viewer is already intimately familiar with the real-life events of the film going into it (I was), the tension, pacing, and sheer creativity of the presentation of this story make for an encompassing and (to overuse an apt word) visceral film-watching experience.
Allen Almachar: I am just going to go out there right away and say that this is clearly one of the best films of the year. Danny Boyle brought the fast-paced, kinetic energy we saw in films like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Slumdog Millionaire to his newest project, which is kind of amazing to think about given that the film is set nearly all in one place. This is a harrowing film that, although very difficult to watch at times, is truly a cinematic work of the highest level.
Brandi: For me it’s not even the setting that makes the excitement and energy so impressive. It’s the fact that this is basically a one-man show, with James Franco having no one to play off of but himself for the majority of the running time. We begin with Franco, as adrenaline-seeking outdoorsman Aron Ralston, setting off for a weekend of solo biking, hiking and climbing. We learn a little about the character from an answering machine message from his sister (“Please call mom”, etc), which he ignores, and from himself speaking to his video camera as he outlines his plan of action. But even when we do get a brief chance to see him interact with others, when he happens upon two lost women in the canyon, the film remains the James Franco show, all the way. He fills the atmosphere from the first second, and every choice Danny Boyle makes with the editing and music only focuses that energy.
Allen: To me, this is probably James Franco’s best performance. Like the film, the character is completely energetic and fast paced, to the point that it actually becomes a detriment to himself. He is so confident in his ability as an outdoor adventurer that he feels he could skip some safety precautions before he goes out. This confidence is tested and broken down when he finds himself alone and literally “stuck” out in the wilderness. He has to overcome his fears and feelings of helplessness to survive. It’s a great performance that I’m sure will be noticed come awards season.
Brandi: You are right to compare Franco’s embodiment of this character and the energy of the film itself. I can’t think of many films where the overall tone and direction seems to emanate so completely and naturally from the main character. We are inside of his world, completely.
Allen: It’s interesting how Danny Boyle was able to maintain the early momentum throughout the rest of the film, especially given the fact that Aron is stationary throughout most of it. With the use of editing, and imaginative montages that reflect the mental state of its lead, we witness the emotional rollercoaster ride that this character goes through. We see his hope, despair, fear, and desperation as he tries to stay alive, facing little to no food or water, battling the elements of his surroundings, and the crumbling of his own state of mind. I was a little confused as to why Boyle started the film showcasing large groups of people together, but it completely makes sense later, when contrasted with Aron’s own isolation.
Brandi: The opening sequence is a very interesting, and yes, initially confusing choice. It bends traditional narrative film rules a bit, and it’s fun to see a director as skilled as Boyle go outside the lines like that, to great effect. I was less comfortable with him crossing the same kind of narrative line in the film’s final scenes, unfortunately, as a certain choice there felt like it was prodding us a little too hard to “feel inspired now!”
Allen: I understand what you’re saying in regard to Boyle pushing the sentimentality a bit much with the ending passages of the film, and a case can certainly be made, but I feel that with the brutally intense ordeal that Aron went through, you can’t help but feel inspired. I think the ending moments of the film were appropriate in celebrating this man’s survival; it’s a celebration of life itself. The information given near the end adds a nice touch, to see how his choice would eventually affect his present day life.
Brandi: It’s an inspiring tale, to be sure, I just feel like I got that without needing that final push. But perhaps I am just a little more cynical than you.
Allen: I find it kind of amazing that, although the film is very moving and inspiring, it is also very difficult to watch at times. There is an event that happens in the film that literally had me covering my eyes. I have heard reports of people fainting in the theaters due to this moment, and yes, it is very graphic. But I feel that it is appropriate that Boyle decided to shoot it in such a way, so we know just how difficult his act was. This is really a film of extremes.
Brandi: It is, and to shy away from that at any point would have felt false. As for the sequence you mention, even knowing what was coming, and generally not being a squeamish person (as in, I watch surgery shows for fun), I still covered my eyes briefly, too. The way the scene is put together is so effective, I think it could easily be something we see influencing future directors and editors.
Allen: So, in closing, 127 Hours is one of the year’s best films. It is kinetic, fast paced, and moving, spearheaded by an outstanding performance by James Franco. Hopefully audiences are ready for the kind of ride that’s in store for them with this movie, because it’s the kind they won’t soon forget.
Brandi: It’s a great film that far surpassed what I thought could be done with what is really a very restrictive premise for a feature. We’ll be hearing a lot about it between now and awards season, I’m sure.