Stepping out of the movie theater, after the film’s screening was over, I overheard a father of two teenagers, who left just before me, telling his sons: “a lesson learned – the power of will.” Is that really the film’s conclusion? Probably, though the beauty of this true story is that the lessons that can be learned from it are many, and yet none. I have to admit I had a very hard time rating this film. I went to see it with great expectations – Danny Boyle, the director, is usually unique in his daring approach, and with a story like this literary at hand, a true story which supersedes fiction as is usually the case, I expected marvels. Yet when the movie was over, I felt the film, though avoiding some pitfalls better than Aron Ralston, its true-life hero, did not even start scratching the surface of possibilities. Boyle dares and applies some of his magic on several scenes, but all in all its James Franco’s terrific acting that saves the day.
Boyle skillfully avoids melodrama and over-analyzing. As a director telling a story, he is facing a couple of major challenges: he is telling a story that has a known beginning, climax and ending (for those of us who remember the happening back from 2003). He is also stuck with a hero that is hardly mobile for a good portion of the film, a film Boyle needs to make interesting all the same. Boyle chooses not to share much of Ralston’s life outside the story with us. He also keeps us, much like Ralston would have felt, disconnected from the outside world while entrapped. Yet, here we are, stuck with this character for whom we need to feel sympathy. It is where James Franco shines with an inspiring performance. Boyle could have filled a good portion of the 127 hours, compressed into 95 minutes, with more subtle lessons. Granted, he is an intelligent director and he brushes through many elements, but not in a way that left me satisfied. I dislike melodrama but there is still a great distance between light brushing and the other extreme. For example, better tackling the sense youth has of being invincible. It is hinted in the theme but not much explored; rather its being confused with arrogance which is not one and the same. Nor did I get a satisfied answer as to what made Ralston finally go ahead and cut his arm, after seemingly being aware of the option a couple of days into the ordeal. It is easy to speculate but I was not placed close enough in the mind of a person actually facing this traumatic experience. Close but not close enough was the sense of the trapped animal who chews at its paw in order to get released from a probable death.
What I craved was more of 'This rock has been waiting for me my entire life' - a sentence voiced by the Ralston that stays with you. A perfect 4 star this film is not, but closer to 4 than 3 stars it is. 127 Hours is a worthy film, superbly acted and capably directed, featuring a story that will resonate with you long after you leave the theater.