127 Hours

What it's about:

Experienced adventurer Aron Ralston (James Franco) makes an impromptu solo trip to the Utah mountains. He suffers a fall and lands between the cracks of canyon - but a boulder fell down with him, pinning his arm against the rock. Unable to move from his spot and completely alone in the remote mountains, Aron is forced to face up to his own mortality.

What we thought:

Sincerely, cinemas should be handing out "I Survived 127 Hours" T-shirts at the end of each screening. I know it's one I would wear with immense pride. If you don't already know why this particular story of survival has been getting so much attention and has sparked reports of audiences fainting, vomiting and running screaming from cinemas around the world, then here is your chance to find out why it is the must-see movie of the 2011 awards season.

127 Hours easily boasts the best, most WTF premise of all the Oscar-nominated movies this year - it's the real-life story of a man who cut off his own arm, and the audience gets to share in every frightening, gory and thrilling moment of that insane act.

It's not giving anything away to say that this is a story of survival that ends on a very positive note - Ralston survived his ordeal to write a book about his experiences (entitled Between a Rock and a Hard Place, naturally) upon which director Danny Boyle and his Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy based their screenplay. That it's a gruelling, impossible story also told with so much humour and heart is what makes 127 Hours truly worth all the attention.

Ralston comes across as a lively, know-it-all who is at home in any outdoor location. He pushes himself to attack a mountain bike course faster than it's ever been done before. He initially freaks out a couple of women (played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara) he meets along his hike with his gung-ho attitude, but they warm up to him once his knowledge of the area pays off in a thrilling diving adventure. But this is a journey Ralston has decided to take on his own (without informing any of his friends or family of his plans) and so he takes his leave of his new friends. And then tragedy strikes.

You'd think that a feature-length movie that primarily takes place stuck in the tiniest of crevices, essentially watching a man die, would be a miserable and too-taxing experience. But trust Danny Boyle to craft it into one of the most uplifting and life-affirming cinematic experiences since, oh, It's a Wonderful Life. If Boyle's flawless filmography has proved anything it's that he can inject any story - of low-life junkies, murderous flatmates, Mumbai street urchins - with an infectious energy that feels immediate and alive with possibility. 127 Hours is no exception and explores all the minute details of what goes on in a mind, body and spirit that is fast running out of time, water and options - complete with stunning hallucinations and the most riveting monologues this side of Shakespeare. You will not want to miss a single moment of it.

So much of 127 Hours, of course, hinges on its lead (only) star, James Franco, who carries the movie like that boulder that's come to define his character's existence - an obstacle that's also his saving grace. This role proved a difficult task, both in principle and in practice, with the actor admitting later that he finished filming battered and bruised himself. It is simply an astonishing performance. Every regretful, arduous moment is etched in his face. Ralston admits his stupidity for even getting into the mess in the first place, and it's almost impossible to not place yourself in his position - stuck, alone and desperate to go back in time.

It really is a ridiculous situation and Ralston was able to use his time in isolation filming what he believed to be his last days on a handycam, footage which Franco says the real Ralston shared with him in preparation for the role. It is these video journals which somehow keep Ralston sane and connected to a life that seems to have existed a million miles and a thousand years ago. What else to do but reflect back on the defining moments of his life, with his family with the lover whose heart he broke? These scenes are shot with so much love, like snapshots from a regretful soul that's resigned itself to its fate, before that undefinable survival instinct kicks in.

Far from being the worst thing that has ever happened to Ralston, what we are watching is a rebirth. And it is beautiful, heart-stopping to behold. There are phantoms and memories surrounding him in that tight space, and the promise of a future filled with love, manifesting itself as a small boy. Because of this he is able to push himself to do, well, it.

Now, the actual arm-cutting scenes are the contentious bits that may or may not cause you to lose your lunch, depending on your constitution, and hells, it is pretty hardcore stuff but not for the obvious bloody and gore reasons. What's really tough about these scenes is that, having spent 90 minutes becoming one with this character, it's feels a lot like cutting your own arm off. And perhaps therein lies the true power of this exceptional movie.

Thankfully, Boyle and his hero emerge from this ordeal triumphant with a gorgeous closing sequence (set to the song "Festival" by Icelandic band Sigur Ros, a song that now and forever will signify utter joy for me) that is both a gift and tribute Ralston and the stunning realisation that, perhaps, what we humans really need to survive is each other.

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