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Movie Review: Spectacular '127 Hours' one of the year's best films

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 “127 Hours”

Directed by
: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clemence Poesy, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan
Rated: R

Regardless of age, we all have events from the past that we will always remember.

I remember when the Russians launched Sputnik, when JFK was shot, the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the Richard Speck Murders, the moon landing and 9/11.

One of the most recent pieces of news that will forever be etched upon my mind hit the airwaves in April of 2003 when 27-year-old Aron Ralston was found in the Utah desert after being trapped in a slot in Blue John Canyon.

He was rescued, in a sense, but not until after he had rescued himself.

After being trapped in the narrow slot with his right arm pinned to the wall by a fallen boulder, the young hiking enthusiast - who had been there for nearly five days - cut off his arm, made his way out of the canyon and eventually found people who could call for help.

Every time I heard his story on the news or on talk shows, I got queasy. I find it hard to go for more than 20 minutes if I need a bit of a snack or a can of club soda. If I cut myself shaving I'll tell everyone I know (those who answer their phones or read my e-mails) that “I nearly bled to death.”

Yes, I'm a less than rugged “indoorist.”  

Aron Ralston's story completely amazed me, and I continue to recognize it as a testament to the human spirit and the sheer power of survival instinct.

And as much as I love the canyon country of Utah, my guess is I'll be enjoying those sights via the beautiful photos one can find with a Google search, rather than hiking around a bunch of narrow slits in the ground surrounded by loose boulders.

Ralston wrote a book (how could he not be expected to) about the experience entitled
“Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” In it, and in the many interviews he's done, he described the experience as being as much of an existential introspection as it was a struggle for survival.

There was no doubt this story would become a major motion picture.

At least the powers that be realized it would take a very special director to pull off a story such as this and make it more than a TV reality show.

Things fell into place when Danny Boyle signed on to helm what would become “127 Hours.” Boyle is as extremely talented as he is eclectic in his choice of material.

His first film, “Shallow Grave” was a wicked film noir comedy. He followed that with “Trainspotting” and “The Beach” before revamping the zombie film genre with “28 Days Later.” Finally, zombies that could move fast! It ranks with the best social commentary zombie films (“Night of the Living Dead,” “Last Man on Earth”) of all time.

After that, Boyle made his finest movie, “Slumdog Millionaire.” It's an amazing piece of work that is visually stunning, entirely original and rife with examination of society du jour.

And now comes “127 Hours.” It's another emotional powerhouse, made even more so because it's a true story.

The opening sets up Aron's character. He's a risk taker, wants thrills, is self assured to the point of being cocky. But he's also meticulous in his planning, and it's evident he's taken off on hiking adventures before.

Once in the desert he meets a couple of nice girls and takes them for a swim at a place that not many people know about. It's an idyllic scene before the storm we know is coming.

He and the girls part ways and from here, the facts of Aron's odyssey are well documented and widely known. There's no reason to go into particulars here.

So rather, the focus will be on the film making.

It's spectacular.

Cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak manage to take the viewer's breath away with both the sheer vastness of the Utah desert and the utter claustrophobia of a man, trapped by a boulder on his arm in a small crack in the middle of nowhere.

Boyle (who also co-wrote the screenplay) intersperses the scenes of Aron dangling in his hole, wondering what to do, with hallucinations and (cinematic) flashbacks of meaningful moments in Aron's life.

The conclusion is foregone - yes, he makes it out alive. But knowing what he must do to survive induces a lot of tension as the film builds.

I have shielded my eyes many times - for a second or even a few - watching other movies but here I had to look away for nearly 5 minutes. The audio alone told me what was going on so I knew when it was safe to look at the screen again.

“127 Hours” is mostly a one-man film and James Franco never falters in his portrayal of Aron Ralston.

Director Danny Boyle rarely makes the same movie twice as you may have surmised by the list above, but he does have an underlying theme in his films. From the junkies in “Trainspotting” to the survivors in “28 Days Later” to the game show contestant in “Slumdog Millionaire,” Boyle's characters are full of the determination to survive.

With that in mind, it's no surprise he directed “127 Hours.” It's a true story of that kind of willpower and one of the best films of the year.
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