Life imitates art, art imitates life and art imitates art in the cinema of Danny Boyle. For much like the main character in the filmmaker’s groundbreaking, international crossover smash Trainspotting, Boyle ventured to “choose life” as well – putting this theme to literal and/or figurative use throughout his diverse filmography – where the fight to stay alive has manifested itself in everything from 28 Days Later to Slumdog Millionaire.
This being said, the decision to “choose life” has never been as deceptively simple or quite as overwhelmingly difficult as it is in 127 Hours since survival is the only option.
Boyle pares down the subject to its primal essence in this pulse-pounding depiction of the five days that outdoor adventurer Aron Ralston (James Franco) spent trapped Between a Rock and a Hard Place, as Ralston recounted in his autobiography.
Boldly defying expectations that the largely internal and solitary plight of Ralston would be “unfilmmable,” Boyle entrances us right from the start in a stylistically innovative, adrenaline-fueled opener that splits the screen in three and marries the action to A.R. Rahman’s hyper-kinetic original score.
Although the filmmaker’s passion for “painting with cinema” through self-consciously cinematic CGI trickery begins to overpower the narrative in a meandering third act as the nearly dehydrated, boulder-pinned Ralston hallucinates, the superlatively structured and breathlessly paced first two acts are as hypnotic as anything in Trainspotting.
Thankfully, whenever Hours threatens to derail completely into freewheeling surrealism wherein Boyle’s show-off techniques remind you of a kid on a bike screaming “look, no hands,” (before ironically Ralston uses similar logic to extricate himself), it's Franco who serves as the film's anchor.
A consummate character actor -- James Franco is utterly riveting in an undeniably assured, Oscar nominated powerful turn that keeps Hours firmly rooted in the desperate reality of the situation regardless of whether or not Boyle's cinematic flight-plan has veered off course.
Unfortunately, the earlier momentum established by the filmmaker never quite returns from a cinematic standpoint in both the rushed denouement of the final cut as well as a much more informative yet laughably cheesy alternate ending available on the otherwise flawless Fox Blu-ray that makes you wonder what on Earth co-writers Boyle and Simon Beaufoy were thinking.
Visceral and uncompromising as opposed to predictably sentimental, Hours is a flawed but nonetheless extraordinary portrait of the power of the human mind, spirit, will and body to adapt to and fight against the most unimaginable of circumstances by putting thought into action when it comes to how far we can go when we choose life.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.