Friday, November 19, 2010

127 Hours

Danny Boyle (as Mike D'Angelo noted) subjects all of his films to the same "hyperkinetic" (as it has been called) style. With "127 Hours," his follow-up to "Slumdog Millionaire" (which I have very mixed feeling about), this proves to be a faulty decision. This is a film about an adventurous hiker named Aron Ralston who falls down into a cavern, getting his arm stuck, as the title of Ralston's memoir states, between a rock and a hard place. If there ever was a story deserving of Romanian New Wave-level realism or a POV treatment, it was this one. But instead, Boyle turns it into a movie resembling Van Sant's "Gerry" on stimulants, continuously spiraling away from the center, charting Ralston's thoughts instead of his experiences. It's an understandable approach, but considering, as D'Angelo also noted, what an audacious filmmaker could have accomplished, it's a path of cowardice.

The film opens with Ralston setting off on his fateful trip without, importantly, telling anyone where he's going. We see him as the reckless, brash guy who takes shortcuts to cut off time from "what the guidebook says." Early into his excursion, he meets two fellow backpackers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, stiff and stepping on pretty much every line), who I suppose are there to be his final connection to the outside world. The fun they have furthers the extremely breezy tone of the beginning, which is jarred completely when, a few minutes after they part, Ralston slips and plummets.

As you might expect, Boyle is pretty focused, showing Ralston trying to chip at the rock with his low-grade knockoff multi-tool (as the prologue shows, he's left his Swiss Army Knife at home). That is, for maybe a good 30 seconds. Then, he breaks away, enough times that one could argue that more time is spent outside of Ralston's fix than in. Boyle compromises, when he should be uncompromising. The method works in a way: it shows us visually what he's thinking, and offers (if extremely confusing and half-cooked) exposition. (To it's detriment, it also overloads on massively sentimental imagery.) In my opinion, if it had really wanted to be effective, it would have viewed Ralston as someone who would have found him would have viewed him: as a man who's fighting against deterioration, mental and physical. The scene where he imagines that he's on a talk show could have been more interesting if it had not contained itself (i.e. added the applause in the background).

James Franco is the actor who takes on Ralston, and he does well. If there was an actor who could have played this part better, Franco makes us forget. (In a more intensive version of this film, he may still have been the go-to guy, though in large doses I feel he could be a little annoying, meaning that Boyle's guerrilla editing regiment maybe benefited Franco). However, the real character of Ralston is underexposed. Whether that's the fault of Boyle or Franco is unclear, but what is certain is that the film does not go far enough in its look at the man.

Of course, since this is a Boyle film, there is technical show-offing which (as they say) gets your adrenaline pumping. But this is not the film for it. This is the film where you sacrifice being bravura for being getting in touch with your subject. In this way, Boyle is not a mature filmmaker. He has all the control in the world when it comes to the small aspects of his mise-en-scene (if you can even grant that level of sophistication to his direction), but it doesn't occur to him that the right idea may be to switch the game-plan altogether. C+

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I haven't seen this movie, but I agree that a realistic, point-of-view sort of approach would have been great. If the director and camera people had made you *feel* what it was like to be trapped in a crevice, it probably would've been unforgettable. I do like James Franco. My favorite among his roles was in Milk.