“127 Hours” brings compelling acting, visuals and script

By Wesley Emblidge

What if someone made a movie about an event in your life? They were writing the screenplay, casting the actors, and directing the film. Hopefully, they’d do it right. This was the dilemma facing Aron Ralston, the man who was all over the news in May 2003 for getting trapped by a rock in a canyon of Robbers Roost, Utah for several days while hiking on his own. Luckily, he picked the right people to adapt his story. The film is co-written and directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, the man behind the 2008 Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire. Now Boyle’s back with this amazing story and it looks like he’s off to the Academy Awards again.

In the film, Ralston, played by James Franco, is hiking in the highly isolated Robbers Roost mountain range of Utah when he falls down a canyon and traps his arm under a rock. He has no one with him, no cell phone, and is in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and he failed to tell anyone where he was going. As he says to his video camera in the canyon, “Oops….” Not counting the first 30 minutes leading up to his fall, which include him biking and walking through the rocky terrain, almost all of the roughly 2-hour movie is spent in the canyon with him, as he tries to lift the rock and free himself. However, as time goes on, he begins to realize that he really is trapped.

The real Ralston worked with screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Boyle, although much of the movies material came from the book Ralston wrote a few years back, entitled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” In preparation for the role, Franco studied Ralston, shadowing him in order to learn everything about his personality. Ralston showed Franco the actual tapes he made while in the canyon and divulged more detail than he did in his book. This extra info is reflected in the film and helps it build the character and create more believable moments. 127 Hours is a very different film for Boyle. His past work includes Slumdog Millionaire, the sci-fi epic Sunshine, and the zombie thriller 28 Days Later. It seems like every time Boyle makes a film, he shoots for a new genre of films and each time he finds more success than a director who has done only one genre throughout their career.

It has an electric feel, the fast pace, constant split screen montages and techno score, sure, those are all great. However, the real highlight of the film is James Franco’s performance. The character that Franco adapts may be somewhat unpleasant and self centered, but the audience still supports him. They are in the canyon with him and want him to escape.

As the hours in the canyon grow, madness does as well and with the aid of a small video camera, he records a number of personal messages to his family. Later, he begins to record things like a fake talk show, where he interviews himself, and he even imagines a studio audience cheering him on. Eventually he begins to hallucinate. Often he flashes back to his past and the mistakes he made with relations to his parents and sister. The movie is quite a narrative achievement. Combine that with Franco’s Oscar-worthy performance, the electronic score and you get a great film that everyone should see.

Written by Wesley Emblidge. This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue.