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Going Out on a Limb

MOVIE REVIEW
127 Hours (2010)

127-hours-james-franco
Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures

With “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle finally broke his streak of hyperkinetic movies that ultimately left the audiences cold. But following his Oscar triumph, that nagging problem threatens to rear its ugly head once more in the big-screen adaptation of rock-climber Aron Ralston’s memoir “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Starring James Franco, “127 Hours” retells Mr. Ralston’s harrowing ordeal of having his right arm pinned between a fallen boulder and a canyon wall at the Blue John Canyon in Utah, an experience that would end in self-amputation.

Given that the story is essentially a claustrophobic one-man show, “127 Hours” promises a mixed bag of Mr. Boyle’s most visceral impulses, from the imposing geography that served as backdrop for “A Life Less Ordinary” to the remote tension that percolated through “Sunshine.” Perhaps he is tackling this story now precisely because he can; and because he is up for the challenge of creating an anything-but-boring experience out of a film in which, for the most part, nothing happens.

Mr. Boyle does succeed smashingly in holding your attention, peppering in healthy doses of flashbacks and fantasies between Mr. Ralston’s monologues and his attempts to free himself. Some of the stuff is unmistakable, vintage Danny Boyle, such as illustrating Mr. Ralston poking his arm with a dull knife by simply showing a crimson-tinted cutaway of the blade hitting the bone sans the flesh. But at this point in Mr. Boyle’s career, it’s mind-boggling to see him paying random homage to Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” during a fantasy sequence.

Perhaps “127 Hours” works because it reunites him with many of those partially responsible for the success of “Slumdog,” most notably screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, composer A. R. Rahman and lenser Anthony Dod Mantle. It’s probably a good thing writer Alex Garland, Mr. Boyle’s frequent collaborator, has been busy working on “Never Let Me Go” — a project that screams Danny Boyle but that is instead directed by Mark Romanek.

With a charismatic and immensely engaging performance from Mr. Franco, the screenplay by Messrs. Beaufoy and Boyle unexpectedly fleshes out in the epilogue a human dimension lacking in most of Mr. Boyle’s films. The climactic amputation is tastefully done, with just enough gore seen through violent camera movements and choppy editing. A minor complaint is that two hikers played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara, whom Mr. Ralston encounters at the beginning of the film, seem almost interchangeable with his ex (Clémence Poésy) during the later flashbacks. Overall, it’s a resounding success in a fairly unmemorable year in cinema.

127 HOURS

Opens on Nov. 5 in the United States and on Jan. 7, 2011 in Britain.

Directed by Danny Boyle; written by Mr. Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” by Aron Ralston; directors of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak; edited by Jon Harris; music by A. R. Rahman; production design and costumes by Suttirat Larlarb; produced by Christian Colson, Mr. Boyle and John Smithson; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: James Franco (Aron Ralston), Amber Tamblyn (Megan), Kate Mara (Kristi), Clémence Poésy (Rana), Kate Burton (Aron’s Mom), Treat Williams (Aron’s Dad) and Lizzy Caplan (Sonja).

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