Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'127 Hours' - Movie Review in Climber Magazine

I’m not good with gory bits in movies. Often, I end up watching my wife Shelley while she reacts to them. At the very least, one hand covers my face as I pretend to peek through protective fingers.
So, after reading some early reviews of 127 hours, and the gut-wrenching scenes that reportedly had viewers leaving the cinema, passing out and even throwing up, I didn’t fancy my chances at seeing much of the nitty gritty.
Aron Ralston’s solo-canyoning-turn-rock-trap-epic in remote Utah has become almost as well known as Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void.
‘So, could you do it?’
‘Cut your own arm off?’
After sitting through a rather explicit depiction, I’d have to say…probably not.
But it’s not just about that moment. Director Danny Boyle does a great job retelling the drama, playing a deft hand with an action-consequence type narrative. The main protagonist, James Franco of Spiderman bad-guy fame, realises he needs other people in his life, especially when his borderline Darwin Award adventures finally place him in this predicament. This is nicely done, without hyper-focussing on the obvious ‘tell someone where you are going’ moral to the story. Franco is an inspired choice for playing Ralston. He revels in the role.
I hate the term, but Franco and Boyle ‘keep it real’. There’s enough early life reflection and delusion-based imagery to break up the narrative, but not too much that it bogs down. The cinematography is spot on, and a cameo by Scooby Doo nicely edgy. There’s one scene where Franco suddenly manages to get his pack off the shoulder of his trapped arm – an impossible feat without undoing it or sliding it down over his body – but this is a minor blip. It only shows up because all of the other survival details are observed so closely.  
It would have taken a lot of courage for Ralston to agree for his experience to be told on the big screen. Forget the money. This is about opening yourself up – exposing your failings and weakest moments – to hundreds of thousands of strangers. But then to bring footage of Ralston and his wife and son into the final frames of the movie – like Sean Penn also did with the tragic Chris McCandless story Into the Wild – adds to the authenticity.
And now to the moment: I managed to watch most of it, which is to say that it’s not too gory, rather than me outdoing myself. Be prepared. It is realistic. But, even allowing for my weak constitution, it needs to be.
Score: 4 out of 5  


  1. Hi Paul. I just discovered your blog--cool. :)

    If you don't mind me asking, had you read Aron Ralston's autobiography before you watched this movie? He published it in 2004, about a year after his accident.

    I've been avoiding the movie because his book really didn't do it for me, and I gave up in frustration moreso than goriness. (I know that's a completely unfair way to judge a movie but I've been doing it all the same.) From what you've written here it sounds as if the director might have done for the movie what a decent ghost-writer could have done for the book. I guess I'm just curious if you'd read it, and if you had any impressions of how they compared.


  2. Hi Mike, thanks for the feedback.

    Yes I had read Ralston's autobiography before watching the movie.
    I think in the book Ralston wanted to cover some of his earlier life experiences, which in turn allowed a platform to explain his philosophies about outdoor adventure etc. I thought Ralston did a great job writing about the specifics of the accident. But when you compare his book to, say, Joe Simpson's 'Touching The Void', you begin to appreciate the difference a purely narrative-driven piece could have achieved. The movie has a much tighter feel to it, perhaps the sign of a quality director.

    I always feel rather exposed criticising other writers, especially when my own work probably exhibits the same frailties, or worse. And my views have sometimes changed between seperate readings of the same book. I think Ralston wrote some particularly moving passages, but must admit I skipped over some of the background stuff.