James Franco’s lacklustre turn as Oscar host took a lot of the shine off one of the key reasons why he landed the gig in the first place: namely, his Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours as a climber whose arm is trapped by a falling rock while canyoning in Utah.
How ironic that he’s a sight more animated when rendered helplessly immobile in Danny Boyle’s pic than he was on stage at the Kodak Theatre with total freedom of movement.
There were times when he looked as if he’d rather emulate his character’s armamputating escape than trade another winking wisecrack with Anne Hathaway or take part in another lame-ass skit.
Happily, long after memories of that ignominious night have faded, his work here will live on – a testament to the skill with which the Milk man charts Aron Ralston’s metamorphosis from cocksure hedonist to stoic survivor with a renewed appreciation for his life and loved ones.
Introduced from the off as a thrill-seeker with a death wish as big as his insouciant grin, Ralston comes across initially as something of a cock.
But following his fateful tumble – a plot point screenwriter Simon Beaufoy artfully postpones by twinning Franco with a pair of angelic fellow travelers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) for some rock pool hijinks – a new Aron emerges: a scared and vulnerable one, yes, but one with immense reserves of courage and endurance.
For a star often defined by his hipster aloofness, it’s some achievement to cast off his aura of cool and expose himself quite so nakedly. Yet as impressive as Franco is here, he simply wouldn’t fly without Boyle’s dazzling direction, which morphs perhaps the most static situation ever imagined into an eye-popping sensory deluge of flashbacks, dream sequences, split-screens and multiple film stocks.
Whether recording the highs and lows of heroin addiction in Trainspotting, searching for paradise in The Beach or travelling into space in Sunshine, Boyle’s movies have always displayed a restless and kinetic dynamism.
The coup in 127 Hours is to bring the same technique to bear in a story where the only movement is inside the mind of its desperate and dehydrated hero as he slowly comes round to the single option left to him, besides capitulation and death.
Kudos to the Slumdog Millionaire director for using the goodwill and clout from that film to jolt this long-gestating project into reality, and for sticking to his guns right through to its grisly climax.
Yet having seen it once, how many would really choose to sit through it again? You could probably count them on the fingers of one hand...
In addition to the filmmakers’ chat-track, (wisely) deleted scenes and featurettes (one detailing the attempt to rescue Ralston), Blu buyers get deadpan darts yarn God Of Love, the winner of this year’s Best Short Film Oscar. And why not?
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