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The Independent Critic

James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, Aron Ralston (Novel)
Rated R
93 Mins.
Fox Searchlight

  • Feature Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Search & Rescue: Actual events that aided the search and rescue of Aron Ralston
  • 127 Hours: An Extraordinary View - A unique collaboration between the director and actor
  • Disc 2: Digital Copy

 "127 Hours" Review 
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The opinions on director Danny Boyle's latest film, 127 Hours, will inevitably vary widely and with likely much debate. The story of Aron Ralston, played here by James Franco, is unquestionably a deeply involving and emotionally powerful true story. Ralston was a 27-year-old adventurous spirit in 2003 when he ventured into Utah's Blue John Canyon for a bit of free-spirited mountain climbing.

Boyle sets the stage for the intense yet closely confined adventure we're about to undertake by serving up what essentially serves as a 15-minute appetizer of character development giving us insight into Ralston's aura of cockiness and bravado. Boyle allows us to tour the area in which Ralston will fall into his unexpected predicament, first allowing him to play hero to a pair of lost hikers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before heading off again on his own where he falls down a shaft and, even worse, a large boulder crushes his arm against a tunnel wall. For over five days, Ralston will be trapped inside the tunnel attempting without success to break himself free. He begins to fall in and out of consciousness, suffers severe dehydration and records a video utilizing a camera he'd brought with him to be given to his family once his body is found. He is, at least nearly, resigned to his ultimate demise. The video is, in fact, a reality that has never played publicly despite Ralston himself having written a book about the experience and done numerous media interviews. Both Boyle and Franco were allowed to see the video as part of their research for the film.

For those of you who are familiar with Ralston's story, 127 Hours will contain virtually no surprises and its climax and resolution are a foregone conclusion. It is difficult to write this review without, in fact, giving away the film's ultimate resolution and the journey that Ralston undergoes along the way, making a sacrifice in an effort to survive that most would likely consider unfathomable. Indeed, there is one scene in 127 Hours that is so unflinchingly graphic and brutal that there have been reported walk-outs from some screenings and, at the least, those unable to stomach graphic scenes would do well to turn away from the screen. Yet, 127 Hours wouldn't have been the same without this scene and Boyle knows it. This is the story of Aron Ralston, and to be faithful to Ralston and his story is to allow it to unfold "as is" with absolute and unflinching honesty, something for which Boyle is particularly suited.

Much like Ryan Reynolds in this year's indie darling Buried, Franco is on screen for virtually every frame of 127 Hours. One of the more hit-and-miss actors in Hollywood today, James Franco has long been an actor who seemed capable of achieving cinematic greatness yet he's often become bogged down in unconscionably bad romantic dramas or stilted dramatic roles where his good looks and magnetic presence have proven to be more important than anything resembling acting or character development. Being familiar with Franco's indie work, there has been virtually no doubt in my mind that he was capable of a truly great performance and, finally, Franco has achieved it by setting aside the swagger (at least after the first 15 minutes) and quite literally painting himself into a corner. Franco, who has been widely acclaimed for performances as James Dean and in the comedy Pineapple Express, gives the performance of his lifetime here as Ralston, a performance that is offered with such incredible focus, vulnerability and passion that one literally trembles at time watching him. With the exception of occasional flashbacks and delusions, the screen is Franco's and he makes the most of it in a performance that should most assuredly be rewarded with an Oscar nomination this year.

Boyle re-assembles much of the same team that he used for his Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, including camera work from Anthony Dod Mantle, his co-writer Simon Beaufoy and composer A.R. Rahman, whose rousing score here adds immeasurably to the film in both its highs and its lows.

127 Hours is a good film featuring a truly great performance, a film that is, at times, uncomfortable and painful to watch yet a film that deeply inspires and suggests the power of the human spirit and the will to survive. 127 Hours is an unflinching and authentic look at one young man's devastatingly traumatic life experience and his relentless and brutal desire to not be victimized by it. 127 Hours is most certainly not one of the most "entertaining" films of the year, yet it is without question one of the most riveting and unforgettable films of the year.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic