sat 19/10/2019

DVD: 127 Hours | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: 127 Hours

DVD: 127 Hours

It's a jittery, restless 127 hours in Danny Boyle's tense story of survival

The canyons of his mind: James Franco as Aaron Ralston

A young outdoorsman is shimmying through a canyon in Utah when a boulder falls and pins him by his arm. He is trapped for 127 hours before he severs the arm with a blunt knife and makes his way out. It’s a compelling scenario, but there are two difficulties that might have presented themselves to any film-maker planning on making the true story of Aaron Ralston’s survival into a movie.

First, there’s the Touching the Void problem: we know how it will end (in Touching the Void: he cut the rope! In 127 Hours: he cut the arm!). Whence will the narrative tension derive? And second, it’s a static story; Ralston is stuck in one place for more than five days with only some ants, and himself, for company. Hardly the stuff of cinematographic dreams.

Enter Danny Boyle, virtuoso director of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, et al. If anyone can make this grisly tale into a dynamic movie, it’s Boyle. And this he has done, though not wholly successfully.

The tension thing he surmounts easily because Boyle is a master of drama – he could inject buttock-clenching uncertainty into the tale of mould growing on a piece of cheese – and 127 Hours is fraught with anxiety. To compound the sense of turmoil, Ralston – in a strong performance from James Franco – is given a backstory via flashbacks, and a chance to dwell on his life thus far: it’s no accident, he tells himself, that before heading off on his adventure, he told no one where he was going.

The static-scenario thing is trickier, because what Boyle does is to overcompensate somewhat. Soon after Ralston is trapped, there’s a virtuoso snaking shot that begins with his howling face, deep in the canyon, and zooms out to a helicopter view that emphasises his utter loneliness in the sculpted sandstone landscape. Brilliant. But from then on, there’s no let-up in the visual trickery: split screens, jump-cuts, restless, jittery camerawork, CSI-style probing sequences. Five days is a long time, and Ralston must surely have been through times of stillness: sleeping, slumping, sagging. Not here. Boyle's ADHD camera never stops moving. It’s exhausting, relentless and ultimately distracting.

As for the arm-chopping scene: it’s grisly, for sure, but I was more repelled by the bit where he had to drink his own wee.

Watch the trailer for 127 Hours

Boyle is a master of drama – he could inject buttock-clenching uncertainty into the tale of mould growing on a piece of cheese

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