Alexandra Kilpatrick | Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A grueling journey for both the real-life main character and theater audiences across the nation, Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is the true story of 20-something mountain climber Aron Ralston who, during a 2003 hike in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, caught his right arm between a boulder and a rock wall and became trapped in a narrow slot in Blue John Canyon.
The biographical adventure film, based on Ralston’s memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” has received much critical acclaim with six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for James Franco’s performance as Ralston.
Franco is certainly worthy of the nomination. As the film’s main protagonist, Ralston is immobilized throughout most of the film, but he draws audience members into the journey and his thoughts through memories and “home made” videos of his predicament as he conquers fear, loneliness and at his lowest point, death.
Although deep in his love for the outdoors, Ralston comes off as being more of an energetic adventurer than one to quietly contemplate nature. Before getting stuck in the canyon, he covers record distances biking through the desert with his headphones blaring, bumps into two hikers Kristi (played by Kate Mara) and Megan (portrayed by Amber Tamblyn) who appear to be lost and teaches them a few basic rock climbing moves, all in a day’s work.
Franco portrays Ralston’s character well, and his face and body language perfectly convey the slow but sure transition from a skilled yet cocky, enthusiastic extreme sports mountain climber to a terrified, vulnerable and desperately nostalgic kid as he realizes that he’s on the brink of life and death.
One moment in particular that brings light to Franco’s performance is not long after Ralston finds himself trapped within the slot canyon. He pulls a small video camera out of his backpack and begins narrating his dilemma. Trying desperately to muster up any bit of enthusiasm or optimism he has left, Ralston imagines himself as both host and guest on a morning talk show, along with audience response. He reflects on the mistakes that brought him to the canyon, foremost failing to inform family or friends of where he was going and in the end, finds only one word to sum up his situation: “Oops.”
Boyle has tackled a major feat in turning Ralston’s personal life-altering adventure, more mental than physical, into a horrific yet inspirational dramatic feature film that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. According to a recent interview with “The Guardian,” Ralston says that the movie is “so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.”
The drama’s desert setting is both aesthetically beautiful and appropriate for the situation at hand. In the midst of both a life and death struggle and an existential crisis, the vastness of the desert causes Ralston to realize his insignificance but also renew his appreciation for life as well as other people, his friends and family (played by Kate Burton, Treat Williams and Lizzy Caplan).
The biopic’s original soundtrack is worthy of praise as well. Composed by A.R. Rahman, who previously collaborated with Boyle on “Slumdog Millionaire,” the soundtrack itself is up for two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “If I Rise.”
The movie is more than a look at an individual’s fight between life and death. It is a story of strong determination if there ever was one, and it leaves viewers with the belief that there is nothing more human about the human race than the will to live.