Saturday, January 29, 2011

127 HOURS: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: James Franco, James Franco’s Aron Ralston
Director: Danny Boyle
Runtime: 93 min.
Verdict: Don’t mistake me for a sensationalist, but this is the feel good movie of the year. The most American of all movies this year.
Genre: Action, Drama

        Not ever has an actor director duo created something this fascinating, and that is a triumphant story of a triumph only because of their very presence. Faithful readers would remember my views on Slumdog Millionaire, a movie where I might have given a little too much importance to my reactions over their analysis, and yet this is what I say – in spirit, 127 Hours is a stupendous film not only for the presence of Mr. Franco, probably our generation’s Jeff Bridges, but because Mr. Boyle is making it. The very fact that Mr. Boyle is at the helm of things, a filmmaker most averse to austerity both in filmmaking and in his heart, lends 127 Hours the flamboyant soul the story of a smug superhero like Aron Roston deserves. The superhero part is the soul, and the theme. The smug part is the premise, and the criticism. The greatness of Mr. Boyle’s and Mr. Franco’s 127 Hours is that they both lend plenty of both, and some more, both to cherish and ponder over.
        There’re two levels at work here. On the surface, we’ve the love-hate trans-Atlantic relationship, of a proud and self-assured (haughty and arrogant?) American, told by a Brit who is critical of the generation the American represents and its addiction to momentary thrills, casual flirtations with nature, and a fast-food style approach to spiritualism. This is a generation that seeks thrill out of sitting in a car and removing all their clothes and bare their all against a cold snowy wind. It is their idea of standing up to nature. Aron is a thrill-seeker and he considers the canyons his second home. He walks into one, gets trapped, comes out minus a hand, and humbled. Sort of like a country walking into Vietnam (Iraq) and getting its hand burnt. Aron is the John McLane we all love, and even though we want his smugness to be taught a lesson, we love him when he’s the underdog. Aron rules, until he gets pwned, and then we get to root for the real deal. We’re basically the onlookers in a Tom Sawyer adventure.
        That’s 127 Hours on the surface, complete with the traditional Mr. Boyle flamboyance, opening to an array of split-screens and multiple angles and rip-roaring pop music (a song craving for a chemical that allows to one’s self in the moment), intending to provide for a trans-Atlantic commentary on the artificiality of this existence. And there is the movie’s second level, an almost meta-film, caused by Mr. Franco’s special performance, who is just as likable and heroic while being self-parodying as Bruce Willis in those Die Hard films. It is a truthful performance, of a performance. We’ve a guy here brought up on pop culture, on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, probably a whole dosage of superhero comics, and within him is firmly installed what I called the superhero syndrome – the intense need to come out as cool in every given situation, the intense desire not to feel mortal. It is a place where brute will takes over the instinct. It is a performance, a performance to satisfy the self, a performance to feed the self. A performance that is so genuine that actually seems to take the critical feedback provided by the turn of fate (filmmaker) in the best sense, acknowledging one’s folly and even making a joke about in the most American of ways, and then turning the criticism on the filmmaker himself.
        I’m probably talking in tangents, and I shall explain. There’s a great moment in the film, great because of its conception, which almost literalizes for us this basic performance dynamic, and great because of the performance that causes that dynamic. Aron is stuck between the rock and the hard place, a thin long crevice. He has placed his video recorder (question to be asked – why does he carry a video recorder) on the rock filming himself, and it has been more than 24 hrs. He is talking into the video, when a little dust from above falls on him, and in hope he shouts and yells for help, the moment releasing all the pent up frustration. He looks back at the recording, and sighs. This video recorder, it is a brilliant device within the film, serving as a mirror and causing the performance. Says to himself – “don’t lose it, Aron, don’t lose it.” The video is the witness, and a reminder. A reminder to Aron to what he needs to be, and to the filmmaker as to what this all is – a spectacular stunt. A stunt dear reader, not a conceit but a stunt.
        And Mr. Boyle and Mr. Franco go about it with all the seriousness that could be demanded of the death-defying daring feats, but feats nonetheless. They are like a bunch of good-natured and enthusiastic college boys, one telling the story of the other, and riffing of the tale, and in turn exchanging high-fives. 127 Hours is not about a tale but about the narration of the tale. Mr. Franco’s is not merely a truthful performance, but a truthful performance of a truthful performance. A performance to not lose it. A performance that sometimes gives away to desperate cries of “Please”, the way we intend to often summon God immediately at our service and find for us our missing wallet. This is no misguided soul in search of some spirituality, but merely a thrill seeker. And Mr. Boyle makes it one hell of a thrill ride. His split screens, edgy style, flashy movements, faux events, hip music are nothing more than an elements of an elaborate performance itself, seeking to and ending up serving the overall tone of optimism, rather than an existential crisis of any sort. Both White Material and Uncle Boonmee come to mind, and the austerity of both is given a firm kick in the posterior. While in there, we’re not worrying for the limb, nor is it an indication of a diminished life. Instead the limb almost feels vestigial, as if we’re comforting ourselves that the worst that could happen is that a limb would be lost.
        This result here is almost avant-garde as far as these out-in-the-wild survival stories go, a film that becomes a self-proclaimed act of exploitation, and an exploitation that serves the soul of Aron Ralston. Often in films based on true stories, the image/imagery of the real person at the end of it is mildly jarring, often slightly adulterating the preceding illusion. Somewhere behind in my mind this shift of identity proves to be a spoiler of some sort, a confirmation that the preceding events were artifice. It is like the illusionist claiming within the act that his magic tricks are really only tricks. But here, Mr. Boyle seems to go one step further on this little element, and makes the real Aron Ralston a character within the film, thereby completing this giant human stunt as well as honoring the man. Mr. Franco comes out of a pool, and meets him, and it is not merely wicked funny, but a greatly heartwarming moment. There’re few joys when true heroes find themselves, and it is as if George C. Scott meets and congratulates and salutes George C. Patton. Which makes me wonder, as to what kept Mr. Boyle from going completely losing his screws and including Mr. Ralston the moment Mr. Franco’s Ralston comes out. I have been thinking about this weird thing since morning, and let me tell you it feels real cool inside my head.
        Ah, the raw beauty of those final few moments, drenched in faith and humanity, drenched in the belief of the existence of goodness in all of us. The sun beats down. Vultures fly above. Aron’s is running out of energy and probably time. He sees figures on the cliff, probably of dead souls. He lets of a wry smile. Not this day folks. He wills ahead. It is truly exhilarating, a moment so true in its artifice, that you submit yourself completely. Goosebumps stuff man, goosebumps stuff. And then he sees people. Good people, who run like crazy when he yells for help, and who waste no time assisting, and who immediately cause the appearance of a chopper. The music soars. This is quite probably the defining American film of our time. In this era where Hollywood dishes out standard-issue criticism of the American way, like the defeatist The American, or complaining Green Zone, 127 Hours is the film John Wayne would’ve called a great American film. And this is, probably much more than Rio Bravo, for it believes in an individual too, while saying what is quite probably the defining movie-line of the American way – there’s no fate but what we make. I know it is a bit arrogant, but then life, for 127 Hours and for America, is not merely a sport. It is a contact sport. You see, Aron did not come out diminished. He came out triumphant. Drumroll and trumpets please. Round of high-fives on that.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nothing about the background score. I think it complemented the movie extremely well...

Rishi Sambora said...

**Spoilers**
ABsolutely. The rescue moment is a goosebumps moment. Spectacular. Although sometimes it bothers me that maybe some things might have been fictionalized ( Aron not losing it and being calm) .. However further reading about the subject made me note that the movie is very VERY factual and accurate. Aron mentions that he was actually grinning (part pain part joy) during the amputation as he knew he was gaining a life back. THAT and of course the beautiful cinematography makes this a amazing big screen movie.

Rishi Sambora said...

**Spoiler**

Also - I feel Danny Boyle missed a trick when he showed the movie title '127 hours' when Arons hand gets stuck. Now for a oblivious movie viewer - he might conclude that Aron will escape. That suspense is killed. HOWEVER had the title been shown when he frees himself... THAT would have been iconic and exhilarating!

Just Another Film Buff said...

WHoa. So we have the film of the year then? Dunno about that, but this surely is the review of the month so far at the review diary.

A truly exhilarating film.

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth, thanks man!!!
Tell me anything, but 127 Hours is quite surely one of the movies of this year. Enough of criticizing Mark Zuckerberg man. Let us just make him a national hero guys.
God knows how much I miss that.

Aneesh, you know what, if ever there was a movie that should have been fictionalized, THIS is it. I think your end title thing really sounds like a cool idea man...

Hi!10@Khopoli said...

Ya Satish, I was waiting for your review for 127 hours. I was thoroughly disappointed with your Rating and review for Slumdog Millionare. I liked your Raavanan Review though. I am Hard-core Rahmaniac. I loved Touch of the sun, Liberations, If i Rise, R.I.P, Scores in movie. Happy you enjoyed this one :)

Hi!10@Khopoli said...

Ya Satish, I was waiting for your review for 127 hours. I was thoroughly disappointed with your Rating and review for Slumdog Millionare. I liked your Raavanan Review though. I am Hard-core Rahmaniac. I liked score which was exceptional, inspiring and unconventional. Touch of the Sun, Behne de kinda, R.I.P., Liberations, Acid Darbari, If i rise. No wonder if it gets 2 Oscars.

Anusha said...

Any idea what the song during bike ride is? Absolute adrenalin rush - loved it! And I love 'If I rise'. I felt the soundtrack was very apt at times, but too much in the foreground at others. Not the best, IMHO.

I liked the way movie opened and absolutely loved Franco in the first 15 minutes of the movie. What an authentic adventurous soul! Smugly carries a camera to show off later, coz Aaron "always has a good one" and "knows the cool way" around "his second home".

I felt the strong sense of HOPE and LIFE throughout the movie, especially peaking towards the end. I felt the optimism and awe, but the hopelessness did not get through. I did not feel the pain, the discomfort, the difficulty, the fatigue (I felt the thirst alright), the hunger, the delirium, the desperation - the movie/acting was not as intense as I expected in these aspects. May be that was the intention. May be that's the quintessential Aaron Ralston. As he likes to say - I did not lose the arm, but gained back my life.

Amar said...

@Anusha: The song during bike ride is: 'Never Hear Surf Music Again'. You can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK6ZySWYpXo

Anonymous said...

The part where he swims with these 2 girls, was that a fact or just made up into the movie? If he'd swam with the girls, does that mean he was swimming with contact lenses on?

Ossy said...

Naidu sahaab..What a review ..What a review!!...& what a movie!!

\m/ Mr Boyle
\m/ J franco
\m/ A. Rehman
\m/ this review!

Anonymous said...

Movie is awesome... even the background score.. Rahman Sir used the Behne De interlude but its true or right to use it there because you can try to spot the meaning of behne de song and situation like the cliffs and difficulties there same goes there with Arnold stuck in the cliffs in 127 Hours.. Indeed Rahman is genius