Dress James Franco up in a pink bunny costume and you have the Energizer Bunny. Actor, director, producer, PhD student (in multiple programs simultaneously), writer, artist, Oscar nominee and host – there is very little that the 32-year-old doesn’t have his hands in. So it’s no surprise that he took on the role of Aron Ralston, an adventurer who lived to tell the tale of a harrowing experience in Blue John Canyon, Utah, in 2003. In Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, Franco takes on what is essentially a one-man show, depicting how Ralston, an avid climber, became trapped in a crevice for over five days in April, 2003. His right forearm crushed by a dislodged boulder, Ralston would spend the titular 127 hours below the surface, fighting for survival, before finally resorting to amputating his own arm to free himself.
There has been much written about the pivotal scene in the movie when Ralston reaches his breaking point and cuts himself free, but my reservations in seeing 127 Hours had little to do with this scene and more with how Boyle could make a movie that revolved around one character and a rock compelling viewing. Within minutes, I was converted.
Boyle does some interesting things in the telling of this story: while the bulk of the film revolves around Franco alone, there are brief respites from the space in which he was trapped. There are a few real moments of human interaction: when Ralston emerges from the canyon, and also at the beginning of the film, when he meets two female hikers (played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara), but there are also beautiful scenes where Ralston’s imagination and hallucinations take him on a spiritual and emotional journey beyond the boulder he is trapped by. The rainstorm scene alone deserves special mention: it is powerful and majestic.
And Franco does wonders with a role that essentially requires an extended soliloquy. He is deserving of the accolades he received (including an Oscar nomination) for this film, but also proves that he is not all hype and little substance.
While 127 Hours was not my favourite of the Oscar nominated films of 2010-2011, it is a remarkable journey of a courageous and strong man, and worthy of a viewing.