Could I do it? That was the question that rolled over and over in my mind as I watched Danny Boyle's new film "127 Hours." This film is much like "Titanic" as in we know the end result, but we want to watch the human journey, which takes us to the pivotal moment.
"127 Hours" is the story of Aron Ralston, a mechanical engineer who gave up that life to become an outdoor enthusiast. Most decisions have an impact on a life, but his choice changed his life forever in 2003 while hiking and climbing in the Blue John Canyon in Utah.
While climbing, Ralston's right hand and forearm became trapped, leaving him alone and fighting for his life for the next five days and ultimately severing his arm to free himself.
It's this story of the human spirit which Boyle and star James Franco brought to the screen. Franco plays Ralston and this could be the performance that defines the actor's career. Franco lost weight, spent his days in tight conditions and spoke with the real Ralston to gather the information and resources to deliver us a character whose journey explores every recess one has and comes out triumphant.
One would think this would be a story of despair and would leave the audience on a downer, but the tale achieves the exact opposite. You'll undoubtedly find your heart breaking as the days wear on and he begins to prepare for when someone will find his body after he succumbs, but you'll also be uplifted.
We're talking about a man who survived for five days on very limited water, essentially no food and in conditions where the days were hot and the nights were bitter cold. The only thing he had in abundant supply was spirit.
The camera seldom finds its way more than a few feet from Franco for the bulk of the movie, but the actor ensnares us in the opening scenes and refuses to let go. We are there in the canyon, with our arms trapped with him and as his desperation grows, so does ours. As with every good tale, we know what will happen, we just don't know quite when.
Boyle's stamp is on the opening scenes of the movie and actually has us on a high note when the tragic shift happens. Instead of limiting himself to just the narrow space of the event, Boyle uses sweeping shots of the Utah landscape and repeatedly pulls back to emphasize the fact that we, along with Ralston, are all alone.
Beyond Boyle and Franco, the talk of this movie has been the scene in which the trapped hiker's arm is self-amputated. I've heard tales of fainting, vomiting and such, but unless you have a very weak stomach, it shouldn't be an issue. Even in this moment, Boyle finds a way to make it uniquely creative and focuses on something I wouldn't have thought about. Even the sound he uses for the effect is amazing.
At one point in the movie, near the end of his ordeal, the narrator says, "This rock has been waiting for me my whole life." It's a stark reminder our "rock" is just waiting to stop us in our tracks and teach us the life lessons we refuse to slow down to learn.
Too many times in Hollywood, the phrase "tour de force" performance is thrown around carelessly. In the case of Franco, his performance is the definition of the phrase. It's not only one of my favorite performances of 2010, it's one of favorite performances of all time.
Franco is simply amazing. This is the type of performance that screams Oscar.
Final Cut: "127 Hours" is so much more than the story of a man who cuts off his arm. It's the story of how the human spirit can triumph over most any situation and is more uplifting than most films this year. And for the record -- I don't think I could do it.
5 out of 5 stars
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy
MPAA Rating: R for language and some distrurbing violent content/bloody images
Run time: 93 minutes