After scoring an astonishing 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for the critically-acclaimed SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008), director Danny Boyle is suddenly on top of the world. Naturally his following movie, 127 HOURS, has critics and insiders already predicted another multiple award-worthy recognitions long before the initial release. Perhaps at this particular reason alone, 127 HOURS turns out to be somehow over-hyped. Make no mistake, it's not that the movie here is bad. In fact, it's a good movie that deserves some award recognitions. Except that it's not a great masterpiece one might hoped for in the first place.
Based on an extraordinary true story by Aron Ralston's memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place, we first see how Ralston (James Franco) who is so looking forward to spend a day of hiking, mountain-biking and rock-climbing in Utah's Blue John Canyon. After parking his truck by a mountain near Moab, he spends a night there. The following morning, he peddles his mountain bike across the rocky mountain until he encounters a pair of young female hikers, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn), who both have gotten lost while searching for a local landmark. Ralston is kind enough to guide them the way, in which the three of them later having fun sliding down a rock crevice and drop into a hidden lagoon. Soon after, Ralston bids farewell to them as he continues his own journey while Kristi and Megan are happy to invite him to a party they're throwing the following night. And so he goes deep into the canyon all alone, when something unexpected happens -- a boulder falls off as he glides down a crevice and pins his left against the wall of stone. Over the course of 127 hours, he tries everything he can think of to set himself free but eventually realizes he's facing a harsh situation that the only way out is amputate his trapped hand with his cheap made-in-China multi-tool.
For most parts of the movie, 127 HOURS is a mesmerizing experience that is both heartfelt and at times grueling study of how a person will go to great length in order to survive. The first 15 minutes is particularly breathtaking (which includes Boyle's brilliant use of split-screens) as we follow the course of exciting journey Ralston is having fun with the nature and of course, having fun with the two female hikers. The scene in which they dive deep into the hidden lagoon is no doubt beautifully photographed and wonderful to look at. But once the real story kicks off, this is where writer-director Danny Boyle and co-writer Simon Beaufoy truly excels. The rest of the movie is mostly occupied by just one person and a boulder, which might be a tedious slog if given to inexperienced filmmaker who doesn't know how to make use of limited scenario. But not so for Boyle and Beaufoy, who never at once, resulted the movie into static moment.
Thanks to a compelling tour de force performance by James Franco (a role originally intended for Cillian Murphy), his one-man performance alone is an amazing revelation to prove what a great actor he is and his presence alone is worth the price of admission.
But this is also a terrific showcase for Boyle, who never ceased to wonder in term of visual flair. Like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, Boyle incorporates every necessary visual style (creative camera angles, POV shot, etc.) to make his picture as extraordinary as possible. Such scenes like how Ralston's mind wandering various thoughts of his family, friends and ex-girlfriend through a series of hallucinations are simply wonderful and heartbreaking. Despite the grueling nature of the movie, Boyle manages to slip in some surrealistic sense of humor as well. One particularly memorable scene involving a surreal chat show scene where the increasingly delusional Ralston imagines himself as a superhero, a TV host, and a caller rolling all-in-one. Aside from Boyle's amazing visual flair, A.R. Rahman has again composed a vivid display of surreal music score that complete the movie into an exciting whole.
All good things aside, 127 HOURS remains a flawed movie. Despite clocking at 93-minutes, the movie feels somewhat a bit overlong. The much talked-about graphic amputation scene (shot in one take with multiple camera angles), which is supposed to be the movie's highest selling point, is somewhat overrated. It's not nearly as shocking as one might heavily touted in the first place, at least not to the similar effect 2004's SAW has achieved better in the hacksaw-amputation scene. Yes, there is some nauseating graphic moment the camera showing how Ralston keeps penetrating his blunt knife into his bleeding arm but the supposedly shocking scenario is often toned down by shriek of guitar string-like effect which is quite annoying for its own good.
Though not up to the par of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, Danny Boyle's 127 HOURS is still a worthy follow-up to that multiple Oscar-winning movie.