127 Hours

Last week I talked about Black Swan and Natalie Portman's bravura performance. This week I want to talk about another performance that wowed me; namely James Franco as Aron Ralston in 127 Hours. This is another movie I had little interest in seeing. I've seen a few movies from Danny Boyle, most recently Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later and I loved all three of them but they can be kind of hard to take. Did I really want to watch a man trapped and tortured by nature for 127 hours before he engages in an act of self mutilation? Forgive me if I didn't find that idea very appealing.

How do you make a tragedy like this into an entertaining story? It's a lot harder than looking at a monumental event like the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of the world a la 2012. With those you can build your own thrilling tale so long as you pretty much stick to the major historical theme. And you've got loads of characters to move around and make fall in love or hate, giving you plenty of options. 127 is about one man faced with a terrible choice. There isn't even pretty scenery like flowers and trees to liven soften things up as the poor man is trapped in a chimney in a canyon in a barren area.

So how do they make this film more than just a webcam watching someone in distress? Flashbacks, pretty girls, swimming scenes and an obsession with water, to name a few. The water thing is a brilliant choice as one of the many problems faced by Aron is his lack of water. When the 800 lb rock fell and trapped his forearm he had two burritos, a snack and one liter of water. As his ordeal wears on he becomes incredibly thirsty and water takes on greater and greater importance.

In fact one question I badly wanted answered was how was Aron healthy enough to do what needed to be done? After 127 hours of exposure in the canyon, with near freezing temps at night, and little to no water, where did he get the physical wherewithal to free himself? The best time to do a herculean feat is when you're fresh and strong. But maybe sometimes when you're in extreme duress something else kicks in to help out.

Aron made a series of video recordings while he was trapped and these make up the core of 127 Hours. Of course the actual footage isn’t used but much of the dialogue is straight from the videos. They create a narrative that shows character growth with Aron going from a solitary man who refused to tell anywhere where he was going on his fateful trip to a man who discovers what is most important to him. (Hint – not becoming a hermit.)

I especially want to mention how much I love the music to 127 Hours. It's by A. R. Rahman, who won two Academy Awards for his music work on Slumdog Millionaire. He deserves more awards for 127 Hours. The music is perfect for the film, moving from panicky to sweeping to inspirational without a hitch. I don't buy a lot of soundtracks but this is one I made a mental note to pick up while I was still watching the film. (I was thinking that if I could have someone write the soundtrack to my life I would want it to be A. R. Rahman. How much fun would that be?)

Let’s sum up. Cons – fear of watching a man be tormented and mutilated. Pros – fantastic performance. Beautiful scenery (albeit stark). Wonderful music. Nice character arc. Inspiring in a weird way i.e. if he can do that why am I letting little things keep me from doing x? Lots of suspense, even though we most likely know the ending when we walk into the theater. If you're still not sure if you want to see the movie then just remember you can do what I did - cover your eyes during the really scary parts.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Real Vampires Don't Sparkle who wrote in about the television show Angel, saying, "My favorite episode is Smile Time. Angel is the best when he's a wee little puppet man." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.