127 Hours is a film about courage, perseverance, and the determination of the human spirit. Although it’s likely you’ll only remember the torturous gore and necessary depravity the protagonist endures under his self-inflicted situation. James Franco portraying real-life canyoneer Aron Ralston isn’t to blame for a general lack of true compassion as he does bring ample charisma and an enthusiastic energy to the role. Instead, perhaps it’s the brevity of the story’s actual substance, the bizarre flashbacks laden with curious editing techniques and a reliance on hallucinations to drum up suspense and misdirection rather than new predicaments. There are some creative visual tricks and a little ingenuity involved, but its biggest downfall is simply that five days of being stuck in a canyon doesn’t translate well to a 90-minute film.
Mountaineer Aron Ralston (James Franco) heads to a secluded canyon in Utah for the weekend for some recreational climbing. After guiding a couple of lost hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) to their destination, Aron finds himself alone and begins his descent into a narrow gulch. When a large boulder unexpectedly dislodges from its perch and lands on Aron’s arm, he becomes pinned and unable to break free. As the hours tick by and his food and water supply quickly diminish, Aron recalls meaningful moments in his life (including the brash decision to heroically embark on this isolated trail without telling a soul) and fond memories of his family while he steadily comes to terms with what he must do in order to survive.
Of all the horrifying true survivor stories out there, Aron Ralston’s tale just doesn’t evoke much sympathy. Imagine if it had been his leg, or if he was suspended in the air, or if after waiting so long to make his final decision to break free, he passed out, went into shock, couldn’t walk out of the crevice, or couldn’t find someone nearby to assist him. He never seems like the kind of guy to flat out refuse a life-saving amputation, so his choice to wait over 100 hours before coming to terms with the only real solution is a bit baffling. Granted, few people could do it on a whim, but Aron was a skilled canyoneer and climber. At least he wasn’t buried alive.
Mother Nature was his enemy, although ultimately, everything that happened was his own fault. While trapped in the canyon, he focuses on reflection, remorse, regret, and remembrance, while symbolizing the cursed rock as destiny or even justice. Despite the many attempts to fill up the running time with split screens, accelerated images, neon glows, blurred colors, thumping rock music and other forms of stylized editing (the water bottle cam is unique), 127 Hours just isn’t that suspenseful or engaging.
It’s not deceptively simple – it’s plain simple. Relying heavily on James Franco’s performance, which is adequate but not award-worthy, the story only retains shock value because of the sheer realism and pseudo-documentary approach to the based-on-true-events plot. There’s a bit of humor mixed into the desperation, and the use of his imagination to creatively demonstrate hallucination-fueled reminiscence adds substance to a relatively straightforward game of survival. The climax is so violent it’s funny, Aron’s determination is laudable but not movie-worthy, and it’s doubtful that audiences will naturally fear being trapped in a canyon by a boulder as much as the many more popular fears that have already been explored by films this year.
– The Massie Twins