Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie review: '127 Hours'

Movie review: '127 Hours'

Director Danny Boyle and star James Franco draw us into an agonizing, unforgettable and ultimately uplifting tale of wilderness survival.

|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
There is such a tangible life force pulsing through "127 Hours" that it is almost impossible not to be drawn down into Blue John Canyon alongside its star, James Franco, for the real-life ordeal of Aron Ralston, a solo hiker trapped in a remote area of Utah's Canyonlands National Park.
Once there, with the hiker's right arm hopelessly pinned by an 800-pound boulder, director Danny Boyle wrings you out completely with a film so emotionally and intellectually involving that when the horrific last resort finally arrives, it leaves some moviegoers in a faint. And everyone else wondering: Could I possibly do that?
Based on the five days in April 2003 that the 26-year-old outdoorsman found himself "Between a Rock and a Hard Place," as Ralston called his bestselling memoir, this is a classic tale of man versus nature and the extreme measures sometimes necessary to survive. As is the case in stories like these — whether on the peaks of Everest or in the depths of a Chilean mine — it is the face-off against unimaginable odds, the test of the human spirit, as much as the outcome, that provides the intrigue.
Boyle understands that. As he did in his Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire," whose hero faced an unrelenting string of soul-destroying challenges, the director again proves a master at balancing escalating tension with just-in-time release. Here the balloon almost, almost, almost pops. The film's penultimate moment, and the one already generating a public stir for its graphic depiction of the way in which Ralston finally frees himself in a bone-snapping, bloody self-amputation, is only a riveting few minutes and a powerful affirmation of the "less is more" precept.
In Franco, the filmmaker has the perfect partner in crime. Had the actor slipped along the way, the film would have immediately lost traction since he must spend the bulk of it nearly immobile. In a smart move designed to deal with shooting in the cramped confines of the canyon, and one that paid off, Boyle used two cinematographers — Anthony Dod Mantle, who worked with the director on "Slumdog," and Enrique Chediak ( "Charlie St. Cloud," "The Good Girl") — equipped with three types of cameras to get the effect he wanted.

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