10 November 2010

127 Hours

**** (4 1/2 stars)

Last night I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening of "127 Hours" with my buddy Lauren. The show was completely sold out but we got good seats none the less! It was a lot of fun.

Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire", as well as "Trainspotting", "28 Days Later", and "Millions") tackles the real life story of Aron Rolston (played by James Franco), the climber who made headlines in 2003 when he cut his own arm off to save himself after becoming trapped in a crevice. The script was based on Rolston's book "Between a Rock and a Hard Place", and was co-written by Boyle and Academy Award winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire", as well as "The Full Monty", "Blow Dry", and "MIss Pettegrew Lives for a Day"). Many of the same Slumdog people are back as well: A.R. Rahman provides the original music which seems a bit Slumdog-lite. Anthony Dod Mantle (AA for "Slumdog Millionaire", as well as "28 Days Later") and Enrique Chediak ("Repo Men", "28 Weeks Later") do an amazing job on the cinematography. I'm sure we can expect to see them again come awards season, but more on that later. Production Designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb (also from "Slumdog") had her work cut out for her. The majority of production was shot on location in the same valley's and mountain's the real Rolston climbed in Utah.

If not for Boyle and Franco, I'm not sure I would have ever considered seeing this movie. Maybe on Netflix, but not in the theatre. I'm certainly curious about what happened in that canyon in April '03. I remember hearing the story and seeing Rolston on Letterman. I know what happened in a round about sense, but I clearly never cared enough to get his book or look into it fully. Climbing, canyoning, etc. holds no interest to me.

When I head Franco had been cast, I knew I was screwed and would have to see this movie. He has proven himself quite the gifted actor, abandoning the heartthrob/bad boy image ("Freaks & Geeks", "Annapolis", "Spiderman") in favor of rich character studies and independent cinema. See: "Milk", "Howl", "Tristan + Isolde". Even his turn on "General Hospital" seems logical and a big F-you to mainstream Hollywood. The daily shoots and last minute scripts would surely help an actor, and it seems as if it has. Franco's performance of Rolston is cocky, sincere, heartbreaking, and devastating. His hunger induced fantasies play in split screen, the colours pop from the near darkness he was in before. We find ourselves longing for a Mountain Dew or the need to escape the bathroom. Unfortunately, we are glued to our seats and cannot move for fear we will miss one moment of his performance.
[side note: Fuck you James for making me watch episodes of GH. I have no idea what is going on. I do think it's hilarious that your character was named Franco, but that could have easily been an attempt from the writers to help you remember your name on the show. Grrr!]

Speaking of the use of split screen, it was a bit annoying at times but made sense as the film progressed. We are assaulted with images of urbanism, consumerism, and traffic. Bright colours of red, yellow, and green (a wink at the upcoming red desert?) flash across the screen. At times, we are unsure where to look or what we are seeing. This continues off and on until the pivotal scene where Aron is trapped. Now, these editing tricks play out in his mind. One of the best scenes in the film comes when Rolston has been trapped for over 3 days in the canyon. He imagines himself on an interview show and he plays the part of both host, guest, and caller to the small camera he brought with him on the trip. We cut back and forth from the low res handheld to a movie camera slightly askew stage right and another stage left. It is a brilliant scene for both actor, director, and editor.

Also cropping up in the film (no pun intended) are Kate Mara ("Shooter") and Amber Tamblyn ("Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") as two fellow hikers who met Rolston right before his accident, his parents played by Treat Williams (!!!) and Kate Burton, and his ex-girlfriend (Clémence Poésy, "Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire", "In Bruges") whom he often reminisces about.

Boyle has long been a director impossible to peg or categorize. His filmography reads like my perfect wish list: horror, suspense, comedy, non-fiction, foreign, sci-fi. He seems to follow his heart and doesn't allow anyone to tell him what type of movies he should be making. It is impossible to tell a Danny Boyle film just by looking at it, and I mean that as the ultimate compliment. I remember seeing his first film "Shallow Grave" when it came out. It introduced me to Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston, and was the kind of dark British humor much beloved in our house. He followed that up with "Trainspotting" and "A Life Less Ordinary" (slightly less successful). "The Beach" paired him with future collaborator Alex Garland from whose novel the film was based. They would go on to work together on "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine" (one of my top little appreciated films and a must for horror/sci-fi nerds like myself). Just to throw them off, he left zombies behind to make a small and uplifting Irish movie called "Millions". Finally, the Oscar's came calling with "Slumdog Millionaire". Personally, I didn't think it would win or even that it was the best picture of the year (I would have given that to "The Reader" or "Milk", but the Academy has long loved these kinds of films. See:"Crash" beating "Brokeback Mountain", "Good Night and Good Luck", and "Munich".)
[side note:While I understand the desire to work with the same people, especially those who won awards along side you; it is important not to lose focus on who is best for the job. A fair warning to Mr Boyle: Lay off the Indian music and references for a bit, please.]

But back to the movie at hand. I recommend "127 Hours" for everyone. There are scenes that may be a bit gory for children (it is rated R for language and brief gore), so use your best judgement. It is a well crafted film that takes us on a journey no one would choose for themselves, but which leaves us with a sense of hope and impressive awe at the man who lived it.

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