Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Austin Film Fest - "127 Hours"

127 Hours - 5/5

While watching Danny Boyle's latest modern classic, I couldn't help but feel like I was viewing a window into my own life. Aron Ralston is a guy who seeks escape from the the hustle & bustle of city life, crowds, and craziness of society in favor of his own kind of rush, out in the wild. He's an adrenaline junkie, and is completely at one with nature when hiking. I often find myself doing similar activities out in the wild to get away from city life. So one can imagine how I must have felt by the end of the film.

Aron Ralston, also known as the guy who got stuck under a boulder and cut off his own arm to get out, is played so naturally, so emotionally by James Franco that I didn't even see Franco there. I saw the character. He completely disappears into the role, and the result is a masterful performance. I've been a fan of James Franco for a couple of years now in his post-Spiderman career, but I've never seen him do anything like this. In a film like this, which is pretty much entirely a one man show, the success or failure of the film rest entirely on him. And he delivers in spades. Earlier I said that Ryan Gosling's performance in "Blue Valentine" was my favorite male performance of the year. That was then. I don't think I've seen any actor this year, man or woman, come even close to what James Franco accomplishes in this film. Here was have a man at his most vulnerable, confronted with his mortality. He records a "death journal" or sorts on his video camera. There's no way you could ever capture more raw, vulnerable, authentic emotion than a man recording what he perceives to be his final moments of life on film. He says goodbye to his family, tells them he's sorry for not appreciating them more. He begins to hallucinate and dream, reflecting on the bad decisions and selfish choices he made in life. In a particularly morbid yet humorous sequence, he records something of a morning talk show where he interviews himself and reflects on the stupidity of going out into the wild without ever telling anyone where he was going, and how that got him in this situation. It's heartbreaking, when the humor wears off and Ralston ends the segment by repeating the word "Oops" until it's a whisper.

The film can't be dissected without mentioning the modern master behind it. Danny Boyle's trademark exuberance is on full display here, taking a film set almost entirely in one location and making it one of the most intense experiences I've ever had in a theatre. There's an auteurist flair on display here, a complete and total command of every frame. Boyle plays with splits screen usage in the opening, middle, and end of the film. We start with images of the busy busy city life Ralston is trying to escape, mixed in split screen with images of him gathering his supplies before leaving. The film closes with similar images, bookending a message about community and how we can't live our lives in isolation. Nobody does it alone. This really struck a big emotional chord with me.

And really, I don't think I've ever seen a more emotionally intense film in my life. I was in tears by the end, experiencing a sort of catharsis rarely seen in film. "Blue Valentine" may have been extremely depressing, but I never 100% got the feeling of true catharsis like I did here. Boyle is a director so high on life, and his films show that. I've never seen a director whose films have a consistent life-affirming tone to them. And as someone how thinks about stuff like that, it impacted me in a way I wasn't completely prepared for.

Truly, I haven't seen anything this extraordinary all year. In a very strong year where I've seen some of the most incredible images put on film, with "Inception", "The Social Network", and "Toy Story 3", Danny Boyle's masterpiece still manages to stand above the rest. And I will never forget this film, not ever.


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