Is there a more versatile or interesting British filmmaker than Danny Boyle working today? Few of his contemporaries have as varied a filmography, and there is no denying the consistency in quality of his cinematic narratives. Slumdog Millionaire earned him well-deserved Oscar recognition, but any fears that success would go to this most down-to-earth director’s head can be comfortably – or perhaps not so comfortably – put aside after watching 127 Hours. An intense hour and a half of exemplary filmmaking, it is a concise distillation of everything that is essential about Boyle’s cinema, and is arguably his most accomplished work to date.
A reconstruction of a real event, the film covers the five days that mountaineer Aron Ralston (James Franco) spent trapped in Blue John Canyon in the Utah desert, after a fall left him pinned at the right arm under an unmoveable boulder. With limited supplies, a portable video camera and, most significantly, a small travel knife, Ralston kept himself alive, and ultimately undertook an unthinkable act of self-amputation to escape this early grave.
Boyle has reunited his Slumdog dream team of cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, composer AR Rahman and writer Simon Beaufoy and he orchestrates their contributions with absolute confidence and control. The film’s opening 20 minutes are a joyful storm of visual activity before the enforced calm of Ralston’s ordeal, but it’s when the story reaches this underground standstill that Boyle’s invention really starts moving. His camera is alive to every visual possibility of the cramped location, even at one point switching to an inside-the-injured-arm perspective. However, this is no technical showcase; Boyle’s film is a question, a search to discover what drives a man to survive. Franco is completely convincing as he enacts a mental journey from self-sufficiency to realisation of his desperate need for human connection, to a moment of decisive action. The intense and graphic depiction of that moment may prove too much for some viewers (this writer came very close to fainting), but it’s completely justified. Boyle drags the audience into hell and out the other side, and everyone who makes it will feel Ralston’s triumph as their own.
General release from Wed 5 Jan.