A trip into the splendors of American landscape and the horrors of being trapped by that very landscape—127 Hours is director Danny Boyle’s examination of survival and determination. The film also functions as a one-man play, superbly carried by James Franco who portrays the real-life adventurer, Aron Ralston. For the most part, it visually feels similar to Boyle’s previous film, Slumdog Millionaire. There are a lot of montages into Ralston’s life, a lot of flashbacks, and a fair amount of split-screen editing to keep the pacing going and the man’s life intriguing. When you strip all that away, your attention is still held by Franco and his immense ability to keep you entertained… even when there are no lines.
His journey begins on a bike ride into uncharted territory—so uncharted that no friends back home know where. The only other people that come close to knowing where are two college-aged hikers, played in the film by girls-next-door Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara. I was quite surprised to see Tamblyn looking particularly average in this film despite her cleaned-up appearance on TV’s House. This normalcy was a good creative move by Boyle. The three spend a few fun hours together till the girls re-discover their trail again; causing Ralston to go out alone again. Once the accident happens, the only things that Ralston has to keep himself alive and sane are a bottle of water, a candy bar, some rope, and his video camera. According to Ralston himself, all of this is as close to fact as it can get.
James Franco excels at the one-man show here: he creates a man losing hope, but is finding ways to make it less unbearable. Boyle’s best ideas come in the third act when Franco’s character begins to hallucinate and everything becomes abstract. Ralston, still stuck in the rock, and seeing his family watching from a couch is particularly haunting. Ultimately, the film should be remembered for all this. How he escaped is less important than these glimpses into the human spirit.