TIFF doesn’t cut short on quality

Journal correspondent Parker Mott brings you an exclusive look at the films lighting up the Toronto International Film Festival’s red carpet, with the first of three film reviews beginning with action-adventure 127 Hours

Ralston kept video diaries while stuck in the canyon, Boyle and Franco watched the footage to help them understand the trauma Ralston experienced.
Ralston kept video diaries while stuck in the canyon, Boyle and Franco watched the footage to help them understand the trauma Ralston experienced.
Credit: 
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Movie: 127 Hours
Starring: James Franco
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy

3 Stars out of 4

There are movies that simply shouldn’t be made (Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho) and some, for their importance, demand to be (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11). The finicky element of Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours is that it draws a line between two of these categories.

A true story of one man’s survival while in such a painful and impossible scenario demands to not go unnoticed. But how does a director make the most out of a man, Aron Ralston, wedged between a rock for 127 hours (cinematic length: 93 minutes)?

Well, as Boyle stated to a vast student audience at the TIFF screening: “you make an action movie out of the [apparently] inert.” He pulls it off—to the extent any great director could do with this project—barely.

Aron Ralston (James Franco) is an athlete, an explorer of the highest proportion. He’s too busy to answer his parents’ messages and too impatient to find his Swiss army knife when it’s right under his fingers.

The mountains are his immediate destination and he intends to get there. He treks to the canyons of Moab, Utah, where the sun beats down so hard it could discolour the rocks and crevices are so common you would think the mountains move. Ralston claims they do, “but hopefully not today.”

He meets up with two female backpackers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) and acts as their makeshift guide across the rocky landscape. They venture down a narrow cenote (a sinkhole) and we watch, as Boyle’s camera frenetically dives in behind them.

Ultimately, Ralston and the two backpackers depart for their own ways, leaving Ralston alone and reckless. He soon finds his right arm wedged in a boulder. There’s the set up.

This story, possibly by coincidence, reflects Boyle’s fundamental narrative. He loves to begin with wonder, discovery and that little hint of loneliness (The Beach) and then suddenly he puts the characters in death-staring situations, leaving them alone, with only the audience to interact with (28 Days Later).

127 Hours, however, goes without diegesis; it’s a psychological experience, emphatically ensuing an emotional story—the only way 127 Hours could work.

Boyle’s camera personifies an unsteady mind. It’s gritty, with forced in close-ups, but sometimes on the contrary, it’s held back, distant, observant and saturated. Boyle puts us in Ralston’s mind, which is essential, because the only conflict within any square mile is the contest between man and nature.

What is frightening is that Ralston decides to accept his death. He thinks back on past memories and what could have been: him nestling close to his parents, drinking a cool bottle of Gatorade and going to the Scooby-Doo-themed party the two backpackers invited him to.

127 Hours is about life flashing before someone’s eyes. And it even taps into a mind slowly falling into madness.

There’s even one scene involving Franco, portraying a talk show host, himself, introducing a guest—also himself. Boyle uses Ralston’s video camera and his own dutch angle to separate the personalities. Boyle is a master of minds—he insinuates comedy in times of pure strife.

But 127 Hours carries reservations. This is an emotional journey and solely that. Boyle, afraid to lose his audience, is very keen on finding a performer-audience connection. And he does. But the beauty and transcendence of Boyle’s greatest works (Millions, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) were that these were emotional endeavours, but were also odysseys towards an answer—an enigmatic one. Some were about love, family and death.

127 Hours has an exuberant style, one that won’t cause you to lose your attention. But after witnessing it, as tonic and sentimentally skilled as it is, there’s no need to watch it again. We’ve met this character, felt for him and escaped with him. It’s an experience, Ralston I’m sure would agree, that one would prefer to be a one-time experience.

Boyle is still a master and a natural at controlling moods and creating films that develop into such versatile works. Like the passage of 28 Days, 127 Hours is about an amount of time taking its toll on one’s mind. The film is haunting, surreal and definitely Boyle’s most audacious experience. It puts you in that rock, makes you believe you are Aron, and leaves you hopelessly watching as the world caves in on you.

One thing Ralston would have definitely agreed upon when bound in that rock is the iconic line from 28 Days Later, that “staying alive is as good as it gets.”

Keep an eye on A&E for the second and third installation of TIFF reviews of The Town and The Conspirator.

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