Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Quick Look: 127 HOURS

One of Danny Boyle’s greatest skills as a director is his ease with unease. Through his throat-grabbing jump cuts and frenetic cinematography (mostly, as of late, from Anthony Dod Mantle), he summons up great dread. It’s not just his horror films (28 Days Later) or druggie portraits (Trainspotting) that utilize this skill. Even his most crowd-pleasing Slumdog Millionaire is a film with characters perpetually on the edge of potential destruction. Now, with 127 Hours, Boyle once again utilizes unease to maximum effect in telling the true story of Aron Ralston, the hiker who found himself alone and pinned to the side of a canyon in a freak accident when a boulder landed on his arm. James Franco, as Ralston, brings a laid-back charm to the opening scenes that nicely complement the dire circumstances he soon tumbles into. He’s a compelling screen presence, easily entertaining even in an increasingly desperate situation. Naturally, the film progresses with its protagonist trapped in one location, but Boyle surrounds him with a cacophonous visual and aural collage. It’s electrifyingly busy filmmaking that uses the character’s excruciating pain and increasing claustrophobic isolation and hopelessness to fuel a hallucinatory stream of consciousness with imagery and sound. After five days, when Ralston decides that the only way to be free is through self-amputation, it’s a highly charged moment of gore and viscera followed by a denouement of overwhelming, transcendent release. While the thematic elements of the film feel a bit schematic at times, the film’s pulse of emotion, deriving its power from the unceasing visceral unease and tension that course through the movie, leaves an undeniable impact.

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