I’d be tempted to call 127 Hours a one-of-a-kind film, but considering the fact that Buried came out a couple of months before this one, I can’t exactly say that. The latter film had Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box for 90 minutes. 127 Hours has James Franco trapped underneath a rock for 90 minutes. One was based on a true story, one that you’ve probably heard about, which also makes it slightly less thrilling. Unfortunately, the one that’s less exciting is 127 Hours.
We begin by watching Aron Ralston (Franco) preparing for his day. He fills up a water bottle, gets his hiking/climbing gear, and tries to find his Swiss Army Knife, although he isn’t successful in that regard. He then sets off, ignoring his phone and deciding that he’s too amazing to tell anyone where he’s going. He sets off on a trek where we watch him bike and later hike around a National Park in Utah, where he meets two young female hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn), who he spends some time exploring with, before going on his way.
It’s at this point when our real story kicks into high-gear. While trying to descend a canyon, he falls when a boulder gives way. He lands on his feet, much to his shock, although we soon realize that his look of surprise isn’t just due to his smooth landing. His right arm has been crushed by the boulder that forced his fall, and despite his best efforts, he is unable to move it. This all apparently happened, as Aron Ralston is a real person who wrote an autobiography about the incident. Of course, you know at this point that he’s going to be okay, unless director Danny Boyle and his co-writer Simon Beaufoy decide to drastically alter the ending during their translation to film.
So, here’s the set-up for the vast majority of the film: There’s a man who has limited mobility, while also only having usage of one of his arms; he has approximately 500 milliliters of water, and only a couple of items of food; and he has a flashlight, some rope, and a handheld camera. I’d say that’s quite the predicament, wouldn’t you? Anyway, that’s the situation and he estimates that he has possibly a few days at the most to live until his supplies run out. What should he do? What would you do?
If you’ve read the story in the news over the last few years, you know what happens. If you’re blissfully ignorant about how Aron’s story ends, I’ll leave you be until you either read about it or watch 127 Hours. If you choose the latter, you’ll have a thrilling time that will probably stick with you for quite a long time. If you choose the former, then you are going to miss out on a pretty good film, and that’s a shame.
Of course, I’m such a well-read (I’m not really) person that I already knew about Aron’s story and what he did to escape. When it’s shown on-screen, it’s a terrifying watch and is one of the least pleasant experiences I can remember viewing. If your reasoning skills are up to snuff, you will probably have already figured out what he does, and yet, I have to wonder if that makes you want to see the film more or less. Regardless, he does certain things to survive and escape that I wouldn’t want to see anyone go through.
Not wanting to see anyone go through these things is in the film’s favor, because Aron isn’t set-up as a sympathetic character. Really, he’s kind of a jerk, relying on his skill and cockiness to get by in life. He hallucinates frequently throughout, which results in flashbacks for us, showing us how he lived before he became trapped. He’s not really a fun person to be around, although being put through such terrible conditions during his entrapment means that I still wanted to see him escape, and winced when he had to do something excruciating in order to stay alive.
It’s during these hallucinations that he begins to grow as a character. Granted, it’s your general “I was a bad person and I shouldn’t be one any more” type growth, but at least he was trying. And if that’s what happened to the real Aron Ralston, then I’ll take the film’s word for it. I can see how a situation like this one could make one rethink one’s priorities in life.
That’s something that 127 Hours does impressively: Everything that happens within it feels like it could actually happen. Well, I’m not sure how he landed so gently on his feet when he first falls, but apart from that, everything felt so real. Because of this feeling, we fear even more for the life of this adventurer, and we want to see his suffering — and trust me, it really does feel like he’s suffering — end as quickly as possible.
Some of these flashbacks make the film drag, and they introduce characters that not much is done with apart from these specific scenes. They take away from Franco’s one-man-show, which truly is heartbreaking. As a result, these scene mark the low points of the film, as they mark a departure from what makes the film work: Franco’s performance. Relegating him to an omniscient role watching other people do nothing of interest disrupts the flow that we get into while watching the man trapped beneath the boulder.
Nonetheless, 127 Hours is a haunting experience that, if you watch all the way through, will stick in your mind for as long as you can envision the final escape attempt made by Mr. Ralston. Some of the thrills will be taken away if you already know too much about this specific incident, while some of the flashbacks also don’t properly gel with the rest of the film. Still, it’s a film well worth your time, especially if you didn’t previously know about the man who had his arm sandwiched in between a rock and a hard place.