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127 Hours
Reviewer: Angelina Gomez
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Kate Burton, Koleman Stinger

What would you do if you were in the middle of the wilderness, standing in a meter-wide crack in the earth, with your arm trapped under a rock? Would you bellow for help until your voice went hoarse and then give up the ghost? Would you pee in your water bottle so you could re-consume those precious fluids? What would you think about as the hours crept past?

Would you cut off your own arm with a dull pocketknife?

The true story behind 127 Hours is gruesome, yet undeniably compelling. It's the kind of story that one reads about and thinks, “That only happens in the movies.” Yet the story of Aron Ralston's 5-day nightmare is almost too simple, too free of plot, to imagine how its movie could be anything but unbearable.

Director Danny Boyle manages to take a plot-less, harrowing ordeal and turn it into a captivating, thought provoking and uplifting film. The movie is cut between scenes of Ralston in his captive state, growing weaker and more desperate, and scenes from his past, his thoughts and his delirious visions. A large part of Boyle's ability to make a captivating story out of a painful news clip comes from his masterful camera work. Close-ups show a young face, drenched in fear; sweeping shots simultaneously fills viewers with awe at the beautiful landscape and crushes them with Ralston's hopeless situation; angular shots and periodic three-paneled juxtapositions show the fragmentation of Ralston's mind as he slowly dies.

Boyle's award-winning directing is in full swing, and not a small piece of his genius is in the casting of James Franco. Franco does an outstanding job of portraying a man's progression from cocky, self-assured adventurist to hallucinating, thirst-starved victim who finally accepts that he might need help. At the beginning, Franco shows us a man that is deeply connected to the wilderness—his “second home.” He dashes recklessly forward, always moving, reaching out to caress the time-smoothed stones, impervious to pain, or even two attractive young women that cross his path. By the end, however, Franco becomes a desperate man—quite effectively so—but also a man that is steadier, more sure of where he is actually going, rather than where he is running away from. Franco's character uses his unfailing sense of humor and his realization that he has undervalued the people in his life, to achieve a feat nothing short of a miracle.

And this miracle—sprung from such desperation and pain—is also the ironic twist of the story. As Ralston's condition declines, he begins to think about his loved ones, all of which he has kept at arms distance. He sees these broken connections, and, for the first time, really yearns for closeness. Ironically, that moment is also when he has to be the most independent: he wants and needs help, but he is the only person that can save himself.

One warning: 127 Hours is not for the faint of heart. The audience is gripped by the sheer impossibility and horror of the circumstance, and the actual cutting-off-of-the-arm is vivid enough to induce real, physical pain. Yet, by that time, the audience is prepared for the gore—in fact, it is almost a relief from the interminable march of lonely death by dehydration. This is a truly gripping, powerfully created film, a nail-biter and a heart-warmer without a wasted minute.