127 Hours (2010)

(In theaters, December 2010) I wasn’t really looking forward to the experience of watching 127 Hours.  Survival films strike an implicit deal with viewers in that they’re going to spend much of the film’s length feeling acutely uncomfortable, and this one doesn’t soften the experience of spending five days with a poor guy with a hand stuck between a rock and a crevice wall.  Since there’s only one slightly softer component in that mix, you can guess what’s coming… and steel yourself for it.  Director Danny Boyle’s films have been hit or miss as far as I’m concerned, but his impressionistic direction style here works well at presenting the protagonist’s experiences and keeping the film interesting even as it’s stuck in one location.  If 127 Hours does something very well, it’s to put us inside the protagonist’s every solitary experiences from the irresistible appeal of the outdoors to tasting the last of his water reserves: Indeed, when That Scene comes up, it’s easy to end up seeing stars alongside the hero.  James Franco is exceptional as a self-reliant man slowly discovering the limits of insularity: The film depends on him, and his performance is one of the few this year capable of rivalling Ryan Reynolds’ similar turn in Buried.  But 127 Hours is not a downer thriller, and so viewers emerge from the experience thoroughly uplifted.  Despite the fact that the film stays in one location for about two-third of its length and often resorts to oneiric flights of fancy, it still feels taut, tight and unsentimental.  It’s a minor achievement in filmmaking, and it will win over even the sceptics.

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