In time for Oscar season, an influx of award-nominated films are landing on the shores of Jeju. The arrival of “127 Hours,” directed by Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Trainspotting”), recipient of six Academy Award nominations, brings to the island one of the most cinematically compelling films of 2010. With mesmerizing direction by Mr. Boyle and an outstanding performance by the most prolific best actor nominee, James Franco, “127 Hours” tackles and triumphs over its challenging source material, creating one of the year’s genuinely unique moviegoing experiences.
“127 Hours” opens at a breakneck pace, reminiscent of Mr. Boyle’s Bollywood-inspired tempo in “Slumdog Millionaire,” though this time the backdrop is Blue John Canyon, in the Utah desert. Mr. Franco plays Aron Ralston, a mountaineer skipping town on a whim for a solo biking and canyoning expedition. Sweeping, stunning vistas greet Ralston and the audience as he flies across the desert and guides two lost hikers around trails that he knows intimately. It is a shock, then, both visually and narratively, when the knowledgeable Ralston mistakenly places his weight on a loose boulder that dislodges, sending him plummeting down a ravine with the enormous rock not far behind.
The story of Ralston and the boulder that pins his right arm inescapably against the ravine wall is not fiction; the film is based on “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Ralston’s autobiographical account of the disaster that nearly cost him his life. Remarkably, Mr. Boyle and Mr. Franco take this tale of one man trapped for five days by a fallen rock and turn it into more than simply a cliche-studded character study in courage and determination. In the hands of Mr. Boyle and Mr. Franco, “127 Hours” becomes a tactile experience, a moving meditation on the mind and the senses.
It takes roughly a day being trapped in the ravine before Ralston begins to deteriorate mentally. As an experienced climber, Ralston knows that his location, coupled with a scant water supply and meager rations, places him far from chances of rescue. The dire situation inspires Ralston to use his camcorder to tape farewells to his friends and family. While Mr. Franco’s performance may not be Oscar-winning, he nails this portrayal of an adventurous spirit stopped dead in his tracks and forced to examine his life.
As the days progress, Ralston oscillates from hopeful to dejected, with moments of desperate insanity and visionary lucidity interspersed. Ralston fails in his initial attempts to free himself from the stone but one morning wakes with renewed vigor and fashions a pulley with his climbing gear to soulful, uplifting strains of Bill Withers on the soundtrack. Mr. Boyle repeatedly inserts such moments of levity into this moribund tableau with pitch perfect timing in order to prevent the picture from becoming overly dismal.
These humorous sequences, however, often come tinged with madness, as when in the early hours of one day Ralston records himself giving a mock morning show broadcast. Though Ralston appears unhinged at certain points, he remains acutely aware of his impending demise. In dream and daydreaming sequences, populated by specters of childhood, family, girlfriends, sex, and beverage advertisements, the audience watches Ralston struggle to remain sane as the hours drain away.
All the while that Mr. Boyle probes the mental machinations of Ralston, the director is also priming the audience for the film’s gruesome, grueling climax. Mr. Boyle fixates the camera on physical details — Mr. Franco’s chapped, cracking lips, his blistered hands, his toes reaching out to touch sunlight — in an effort to focus the viewer on these somatosensory impressions. The finale of the film arrives unexpectedly, but Mr. Boyle has immersed his viewer so thoroughly in Ralston’s sensory environment that the scene nearly breaks that ineffable barrier between the audience and the screen.
“127 Hours” is a surprisingly brisk, clocking in at barely over 90 minutes, and rewarding Oscar contender that once again proves the Academy Award-winning Mr. Boyle is one of the cleverest directors working today.
Consult your local listings for times and locations
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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