A hiker gets pinned by a boulder inside a narrow cave and is eventually forced to cut off his own arm in 127 Hours, a movie based on the true story of Aron Ralston.
And that’s pretty much the movie — 127 hours, survival in the wild, cutting off of one’s own arm. James Franco plays Ralston, a real guy whose actual photo we get to see at the end of the movie. His performance, mannered and twitchy though it occasionally is, is a strong one and is the only thing to watch for probably 80 percent of the movie.
As we eventually learn, Ralston is something of an outdoorsy bad-ass. His idea of a great weekend is heading out to bike and then hike the southwest desert solo and he’s so certain of his skills that he doesn’t even leave family or friends with an idea of where he’s going. We see him chat up some girls — played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara — he meets on the trail and they invite him to a party. But it’s a casual meeting and when, hours later, he falls while climbing through a narrow cave and is pinned to the wall by a boulder that falls with him, there is nobody to scream for or to miss him. This predicament gives him time to think about his life and consider, for example, his ex-girlfriend and all the times he didn’t answer the phone when his mother called.
And then, yes, he realizes that the only way out is to cut off his own arm.
The arm thing was actually not the biggest gag moment for me in this movie, though that may be because I watched it sort of out of focus, my eyes fixed on a space right below the screen putting the images in my peripheral vision. (I couldn’t help it — after the first bone snap, my eyes just did that.) I counted four or so big gag moments. He’s a guy trapped in a small space in the desert with a limited amount of water — you can probably figure out what’s coming but you don’t get any warning when it happens.
The angle from which some of the grosser things are shot doesn’t help. Danny Boyle gets inventive with perspective — we get a shot from inside Ralston’s water bottle, a close-up of the ant crawling across his face, a shot of the dull blade of a not-very-good multi-use tool hitting his bone. It helps to give more visual interest to a movie that would otherwise be just a shot of a guy in a tight space. It gives the action, which is limited by Ralston’s reach, more oomph but it also brings everything right up to your face. Hence the gagging.
So, SPOILER ALERT, this movie is based on a book by Aron Ralston (guess how it ends). But I knew that going in. I also knew about the arm thing (that information is everywhere so I didn’t bother to spoiler alert it here). And now you know not to eat a big meal right before seeing the movie. But somehow, despite having this much information about the story going in, I still enjoyed watching 127 Hours. Or maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word — it was still worth watching. It has lots of moments that give texture to the basic facts of the story. And while there is a self-conscious artiness to Franco’s performance, it is still a strong performance, one that does hold your interest.
Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (from the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston — so, spoiler alert about the ending), 127 Hours is an hour and 33 minutes long and is distributed by Fox Searchlight.