films are notoriously hard to carry off. Putting all of your action
in one cramped, isolated place, with a limited cast of characters
could be the recipe for a tense, claustrophobic thriller. Rodrigo
Cortés’ sweatily effective Buried springs to mind as the most
extreme recent example.
If you’re going to hem in your
actor to that kind of degree, then you’d better be sure that you’ve
got someone bloody good in front of the camera. Ryan Reynolds is
brilliant in Buried, and I’d have been interested to see him cast
as Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. He has the proper sense
of physicality and goofy charm for the role. Instead, the face that
we see in a hole in the rock is James Franco. It’s a testament to
Franco’s skills as an actor, and of Boyle’s as a director, that
we’re convinced from the get-go of his capability, energy, skill
and knowledge of the desert that very nearly kills him.
We all know the story by now.
Aron Ralson, crag-hopper, mountain biker, all-round super-confident
hardbody makes a split second mistake while out on a weekend jaunt
in the deserts near Moab, Utah and ends up in a crevasse, his hand
mashed between the rock wall and a huge piece of
His story, and what he has to do
to get back to civilisation, is the stuff of legend. In fact, there
were times when I found myself scoffing at the preposterous nature
of his escape. “There’s no way he could rappel down that cliff,” I
chuckled at one point. “He’s half-starved, desperately dehydrated
and quite possibly in shock. What do the writers take me for?”
Aron’s story is mind-boggling because you have to keep telling
yourself that all this actually happened, that he did free himself
from a predicament that would have 99.99% of us forming an
attractively spooky display of bleached bones in a cave somewhere.
He survived, and continues to do the things he used to, only now
with a rather cool looking climbing tool replacing his left hand.
The trick to keeping a bottle
film interesting is to keep your viewpoint fluid. In Buried, the
director does this by exploring every nook and cranny of the set,
and cleverly by changing the size of the coffin to enable his
camera to get into places where there simply shouldn’t be room. in
127 Hours, Danny Boyle takes a different approach, and a lot of the
film isn’t in the canyon where Ralston is trapped at all.
With the use of flashbacks,
hallucinatory episodes and gorgeous tracking shots over the desert
terrain, I felt like I was on a guided tour of the trapped
climber’s interior geography. It’s cleverly done, and although you
lose something of the isolation and claustrophobia that he must
have felt, the end result is a dazzling, eye-popping feast. The
cinematography is wonderful, and every format from yummy 35mm to
grainy 2003-era DV is thrown into the mix. Kudos to Enrique Chediak
and Anthony Dod Mantle especially for the beautiful macro work,
slipping cameras into water bottles, the guts of cameras and
tracking the path of ants and insects through the cave.
Danny Boyle is one of the few
directors out there that loves colour, and uses it to it’s full
advantage on the big screen. I’m tired of the limited palettes that
are the thing in film these days, and heartily sick of the dreaded
cyan/orange cliche that makes modern films look underlit and boring
to watch. 127 Hours is a hard dose of pure sunshine after all that
drabness, and I felt like Aron, dipping my toe in blissful relief
into warmth and light, if only for a little while.
As for THAT moment: well, I’m a
horror film fan, so I’ve seen significantly worse. It’s nicely
done, and everyone around me seemed to be squirming. I loved the
way the arm breaks were accompanied by an almost subliminal flash
of light. As I watched, though, I realised that no matter how much
gore or screechy sound effects Boyle threw at us, there would be no
way of conveying more than a hundredth of what Aron Ralston went
through that day, in his cave, alone and close to death.
127 Hours is a worthy testament
to an astonishing feat of human endurance, but it doesn’t come near
to showing us what it must have been like. That’s a good thing.
It’s a remarkably positive movie, filled with light and colour and
life, and a happy ending. As a lesson in what we can survive and
achieve, 127 Hours is a triumph.