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127 Hours
Genre Drama

Would you cut your own arm off to save your life? That's what it all boils down to in 127 Hours, an adventure-thriller and drama starring James Franco and directed by Slumdog Millionaire's Danny Boyle. The film is an adaptation of Between a Rock and a Hard Place, a biographical account of now famous adventurer Aron Ralston, who did exactly that. After a solo mountain climbing expedition accident, Ralston was pinned by a boulder and eventually resorted to desperate measures in order to survive.

The story made world news, stunning and inspiring everyone who heard of Ralston's ordeal. Naturally, a triumphant story like Ralston's was destined for paperback and then celluloid, despite the ambitious and stagnant nature of a film locked in on one man and a boulder. That didn't stop British Oscar-winning director, Danny Boyle, who eventually signed on to direct the "one-man show" and recreate the story that reached millions in much the same way as Touching the Void did for Simon Yates and Joe Simpson after their infamous 1985 mountaineering expedition.

James Franco has come a long way since Spider-Man, with a number of starring and co-starring roles under his belt. A few years ago, casting Franco in the lead for a film like 127 Hours would have been a risky bet, but the young actor has refined his acting talent to the point that he's garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Aron Ralston. This movie is something of a breakthrough performance for Franco, whose acting has always been admired - yet rarely acknowledged, with his name attached to nine films between now and 2013. Agreeing to star in 127 Hours is a bold move for any actor, given that the majority of the film is focussed directly on them... with minimal dialogue and loads of close-ups. Tom Hanks managed to do his role justice in Castaway, but he had freedom of movement and he's Tom Hanks.

The film leans heavily on Franco's performance and Boyle's direction... much like the relationship between actor and director in Phone Booth with Colin Farrell and Joel Schumacher. However, there are less characters to interact with and 127 Hours chooses a more introspective path with flashbacks and hallucinations creeping into the life-and-death situation.

Boyle introduces the film at a frenetic pace, demonstrating the first world's propensity for more in less time ideology. Aron is an extreme sports junkie who thinks he's invincible. The lightning pace of Aron hitting the open road, mountain-biking like a daredevil and then hiking the great wilderness as an intrepid explorer show our hero trailblazing his way across the rocky terrain. He stumbles upon two "lost" hikers, only to play guide, show just how isolated they really are and give us a chance to see a softer side to his all-or-nothing personality.

After the two girls move on, Aron is on his own again... flying solo, until a boulder catches his arm and he's forced to a standstill. 127 Hours isn't just a biographical recreation of Ralston's story. This is a commentary on modern life, a realisation of what's truly important and only then a tale of survival. By staying in one place for 127 hours, Ralston had to confront death, innovate new survival tactics, stave off starvation and most importantly assess his life. Preparing to die isn't high up on most people's to-do lists and 127 Hours is comparable with A Christmas Carol for the introspective journey our lead is forced to endure.

While real and unreal, both Ralston and Scrooge reach self-realisation under duress, through a series of premonitions. They are forced to evaluate their lives, past, present and future. It's only when they've been able to confront the big picture and the significance of their existence that they're able to move forward. This is at least half the story for Aron Ralston, whose will to survive, adventurer know-how and triumph of the human spirit fills the other half.

127 Hours makes a fascinating character study as Ralston uses a handheld camera to relay his experience, deliver his final goodbyes and document his struggle. There's a strong focus on self as he tries everything to free his arm. Even after days of endurance, there's very little to do with a higher power as Ralston remains trapped. This is a story about fate, belief in one's self and confronting death, but one would have expected Ralston to "arm wrestle" with his beliefs like a man on his death bed.

This is a fine adventure drama, which has been treated with great sensitivity by Danny Boyle. Yes, there's blood, sweat and tears, but 127 Hours has been filmed it in such a way that we're able to understand his struggle with basic human needs without the content becoming gratuitous. Cutting your own arm off with a blunt blade is shocking... there's no question about it, but consciously deciding to survive no matter the cost makes Ralston's desperate actions seem bold, justified and courageous - words that characterise 127 Hours from start-to-finish.

The bottom line: Bold.


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