Sunday, 5 May 2013

Film Review | 127 Hours (2011)

127 Hours received a fair amount of attention upon its release, being as it was the first film released by director Danny Boyle after Slumdog Millionaire won him Best Picture and Best Director (and six more to boot) at the Oscars two years earlier. But whilst the influence of Slumdog Millionaire and several other previous Boyle works can be seen within 127 Hours, it never manages to reach the heights of the director's most successful films.

The strongest element within the film is undoubtedly the central performance from James Franco - pretty vital really, seeing as Franco spends a large part of the film as the only person on screen. After a largely functional opening act in which Aron Ralston (Franco, and upon whose account of his real life experience the film is based) is set up as something of an arrogant twat, it's down to the acting and directing team of Franco and Boyle to make the next hour of the film work. Franco steps up to the plate admirably: whilst Ralston is not always likable, the actor's performance keeps things interesting and does well to show Ralston's physical and mental deterioration over the five or so days he spends trapped by a fallen rock.

Boyle, on the other hand, has less success. His style is a mishmash of cues from his cinematic canon: the opening act has a very similar feel to The Beach; Ralston's flashbacks to various moments throughout his life echo Slumdog Millionaire's style; and his increasingly surreal hallucinations and visions are reminiscent of Renton's drug-fuelled experiences from Trainspotting. But herein lies the problem: Boyle's eclectic direction never gels in a pleasing enough way, nor is it ever as successful as the previous films it recalls. Ralston's mind unravels, but we never get anything as iconic or inspired as The Worst Toilet In Scotland or Allison's dead baby crawling on the ceiling. And whilst I accept that Ralston's flashbacks are there to show how his current experience is changing him as a person, they equally serve to reinforce that the person we're watching has for the vast majority of his adult life been a bit of a tosser.

True, there are more successful moments here. Ralston's interviewing of himself on an imaginary talk show - partly to reveal he too realises his previous tosser-like behaviour, partly to distract himself from the boredom and hopelessness of his situation - is a particular highlight. Much has been made of the gut-wrenching scene depicting Ralston's now famous self-sacrifice, and this too is one of the film's strongest scenes, although if you've been subject to any of the hype surrounding it you're likely to be at least a little underwhelmed. 127 Hours ends up as the approximate sum of its parts. It's worth seeing to experience Franco's breakout performance as a leading man; but ultimately Boyle not only fails to impress nearly as much as he has done in the past, but also manages to constantly remind you of that fact through the choices he makes.


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