BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
Review by Peter Mayer
Ever been told a joke where you already knew the punchline? How does one respond politely? Does one fake the wholehearted chuckle as if the joke is completely new and the punchline unforeseen? Or does one just smile wistfully and look for another conversation to join?
In “127 Hours”, Aron Ralston cuts his arm off to save his life. Everyone knows that, or should know that, going in. So how do you tell the story in a way that keeps everyone involved for 100 minutes? If youʼre Danny Boyle, you mix in a few camera tricks, a dab of morning television and a smidge of VH-1ʼs ‘Behind the Music’ editing style to tell what truly is an amazing story of survival. Too bad Boyleʼs style gets in the way.
In other movies where the ending is already written (think “Titanic” or “Life of Brian”) everyone knows how it ends, so the screenwriters and production team have to tell the story BEHIND the story so that you donʼt feel trapped in the theatre by some boulder on your arm, so to speak. For Boyleʼs team, I imagine it was like writing a term paper. “OK, weʼve got 127 hours to cover…weʼve got to tell how he gets trapped, and how he gets out, but what about in between? Thatʼs like…127 hours of stuff!” So the middle becomes an exercise in claustrophobic self-reﬂection that allows the viewer to imagine, if inadequately, the horror and dread of Ralstonʼs predicament. He laments his fate, looks at his watch, tries something to free himself, looks at his watch, and bundles up for the night. Thereʼs anger, denial, regret, and implied masturbation. Iʼm sure the same shit was going down on the Titanic.
If you havenʼt read Ralstonʼs book, titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” which I havenʼt, you may be left with questions of authenticity, much the same as in other ʻhistoricalʼ movies like “Milk”, “JFK”, “Miracle” and “American Psycho”. So while the ﬁlm does a decent job of dramatizing the events of his survival and escape, I was pleased when the real subject made an appearance at the end. It was the payoff for some parts in the middle where I found myself wishing I could look at my watch.
A word needs to be said about James Franco. Heʼs fast becoming one of the must-see actors of this generation. I canʼt think of a bad role heʼs had in the last four or ﬁve years. I realize heʼll be up against the likes of Colin Firth and Robert Duvall, but heʼs a strong contender for awards in this role.
Ultimately, itʼs not only a story of survival, but also a story of relationships both consummated and left unresolved. For Boyle, coming off of the super successful “Slumdog Millionaire”, he continues telling the story of the bereft, trapped, or vulnerable ﬁnding life and meaning in relationship with others. While I do not always like the way he tells the stories, they are certainly worth telling.
PS: Imagine if youʼre Ralston. Do you put up with ANY shit in your life now? Seriously, if anyone gives him any crap, he can just say “Look, I cut off my goddamn ARM”…and everyone would just shut up. But then also, if he canʼt do a Sudoku puzzle, heʼd be like “fuck, I can cut off my own arm, but I canʼt ﬁgure out if itʼs a seven or a nine here!”
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Release Date: November 12, 2010
Run Time: 94 Minutes
Distributor: Cloud Eight Films