127 Hours Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated May 22nd, 2011 at 8:06 pm,

127 Hours Review 127 Hours Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle has joined forces with his Slumdog Millionaire production team for 127 Hours, the adaptation of climber Aron Ralston’s real-life, five-day struggle to survive in the Utah wilderness after his right arm was pinned by a boulder. The result is a gripping film that not only does the story justice, but manages to present it with a compelling visual style – as well as offering a great performance from James Franco.

However, 127 Hours is not for the faint of heart – or the weak of stomach.

In case you’re unfamiliar with 127 Hours, or Ralston’s autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, upon which the film is based, here’s the official synopsis from Fox Searchlight Pictures:

“127 Hours is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah. Over the next five days Ralston examines his life and survives the elements to finally discover he has the courage and the wherewithal to extricate himself by any means necessary, scale a 65 foot wall and hike over eight miles before he is finally rescued. Throughout his journey, Ralston recalls friends, lovers, family, and the two hikers he met before his accident. Will they be the last two people he ever had the chance to meet?”

Despite the pre-show knowledge that Ralston did not die at the bottom of a Canyon in Utah, 127 Hours is still a riveting and suspenseful film. Boyle actually uses moviegoers’ familiarity with the story to ratchet up the tension – cranking up the sound of Franco’s hand sliding across the chalkstone canyon wall, prior to the mishap – pushing the impending accident to the front of viewers’ minds.

Similarly, once Ralston is trapped, we know it’s only a matter of time before this man is going to cut his own arm off. The director utilizes this inevitability by capturing Ralston’s process leading up to the moment as he flirts with the idea for a couple days – while simultaneously failing in other, less drastic, attempts.

127 Hours Review Between a Rock and a Hard Place 127 Hours Review

James Franco as Aron Ralston in 127 Hours

A film about a guy trapped in one place for over an hour might sound claustrophobic, or flat-out boring, but Boyle does a great job of opening the movie world up by allowing the audience into Ralston’s head – which is just as fascinating as the physical duties of self-preservation. While the implementation of flashbacks and hallucinations might sound ridiculous, they fit elegantly with Ralston’s deteriorating health as well as mounting regrets and desires. These moments can be chilling or even offer a brief shot of humor.

However, Boyle, to his credit, never allows these digressions to be too much of an escape – Franco only appears as a fragment or shadow in them, rarely fully formed. Instead of on-the-nose moments of inspiration, the flashes examine Ralston’s desperation, at both a micro and macro level, from a failed relationship to the realization that his disregard for others has led him to the canyon deathtrap. It’s only when Ralston gets a glimpse of his future that he is able to face what is necessary to save his life.

The execution of the in-canyon reality and the Ralston mindscape could have been an absolute disaster, even with Danny Boyle at the helm. However, Franco owns his performance, portraying Ralston’s journey convincingly – from an uninhibited adventurer to a physically and mentally strained man, capable of carving his own headstone into a canyon wall. Franco, as an actor, is clearly reveling in the extremes afforded by the role – from the fearful attempts to free his hand to a loopy talk-show interview he does with himself. It’s interesting to see the actor test the boundaries of his performance but it never comes at the cost of believability.

127 Hours Review James Franco 127 Hours Review

A lot has been made of the story about Telluride attendees fainting during the screening of 127 Hours, but the film is not overly graphic – especially by today’s standards. The movie has a number of cringe-inducing moments but squeamish viewers shouldn’t be entirely deterred from seeing the film in theaters. Though, they should probably plan to keep their eyes closed during a few of the more graphic moments.

It’s understandable that some audiences might still find 127 Hours to be too graphic, or too abstract, or even too preachy at times. While it might seem as though the movie is built around the headline premise (man cuts off his own arm in order to survive), given that the book is a meditation on life and love, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that the film is pushing a message. Still, it’s hard to imagine how a filmmaker could have told this story without diving into the pain, both physically and mentally, of the event.

127 Hours is a strong dramatic thriller with creative direction by Danny Boyle and a commanding performance from James Franco. Aron Ralston’s story is certainly compelling and the filmmakers did an eloquent job of portraying the details of his struggle – as well as the emotional challenges of doing whatever it takes to confront death.

If you’re still trying to make up your mind, check out the trailer for 127 Hours below:

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

127 Hours is currently in limited release.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. Thanks Ben. I’m usually hesitant to see a movie where it’s just one actor that you need to identify with… who has to carry the whole movie. I’m glad to hear that Franco comes through. I’ll definitely check this out when it hits theatres.

  2. Its out now.

    • I meant when it hits a theatre near me. None of the five theatres in my area received “127 Hours” last weekend.

  3. Boyle does just about everything right. I’m a fan of most of his work, so I’ll definitely be seeing this. It looks very exciting.

  4. want to see this SO very badly.

    • i completely agree! great review im definitely seeing this :) too bad it doesnt come out here until like late december:\

  5. People can sit through Saw and Hostel and yet a Danny Boyle film makes people faint?

    What the hell??

    • @Superbruv~
      I read the book that this movie is based upon some time ago and I think that what makes some folks squeemish is that the story is based on actual events, thus making it easier to relate to, and thereby be emotionally effected, by the trauma of having to cut your own arm off to survive. (Ralston actually had to break the arm first, as his knife would never have been able to cut through dense bone…). In my opinion, the fact that the gore isn’t the substance of fiction makes it harder to look upon than fictional torture porn. I’m actually on the fence about seeing this movie for that very reason. It’s the only book that I can recall reading that made me feel nausious during the accounts of the amputation, but I did find the book very inspirational.

  6. ya acording to boxofficemojo 127 hours was only in 4 theaters this past weekend. but it make more per theater then anything else on the list so it will probably increase in theaters for a few weeks. but its still probably going to be hard to find.

  7. watched it last night….AMAZING film, might be my favorite of the year so far

  8. 127 Hours didn’t screen at Sundance. Sundance is in January. I think you mean either Telluride or Toronto. Anyway, great film and brilliant performance from Franco.

  9. I was one of those people that fainted during it.

    I’ve never been good with blood for one but what sets this movie apart is how realistic it is. In horror movies the gore is unbelievable and cheesy and unnecessary, but everything in this film is so real. I would close my eyes and open them for a split second to see his self mangled arm just drenched in blood and then immediately close my eyes again. But I think what really got to me was the MUSIC. Something about it just burned straight into my skull and all of the sudden I felt like I was going to throw up, so I decided to leave and head for a bathroom. Fortunately I actually made it around the corner of the movie theatre where I wouldn’t make a scene before everything went black and I collapsed onto the floor.

    But aside from that setback I must say it was a fantastic movie. Gripping, intense, emotional, and Franco’s performance is one of Oscar quality. A definite must see.

  10. So Ben, I saw this last night and I loved it. I don’t know how Danny Boyle can have such a stylized way of directing that makes the reality seem more real. Do you know what I mean? Especially during the amputation scene… everything there made it seem a bit like the game Operation. It was just a fantastic movie.

  11. Check this one out before it leaves the theatre it was one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. At first I thought it was going to be to drug out but the tempo was right on and it held well throughout the entire movie my wife was actualy awake for the whole film…..I know you don’t know but that says alot all in itself she loved this one as well. GREAT MOVIE!!!!!!!!!if I would rather see this one than the fighter I saw them both and they were both great films although two compleatly different story lines altogether. I enjoyed 127 hours so much more!!!!!



  13. this is the great film of all time james franco proved he is a good actor he is able to do this …

  14. Just saw it. Loved it. The liquid up the straw bit is what made me nauseous. I averted my eyes during the worst of the worst scenes.

    The music was intrusive at times. It usually fit, but sometimes its presence was so strong that it overshadowed the story itself.

    Ben, why 4.5 and not a good clean 5?

  15. Saw the movie and enjoyed it, but after reading the book realized that the movie really missed the mark of Aron’s story.

  16. Bleh. This misses the mark of Aron’s story alright. The whole point of his story is that of the rare “survivor personality” type (a subject dealt with in detail in such books as “Deep Survival” by Laurence Gonzales). That subject is not even touched on in this film, which instead is a frentic mess about such trite things as slow motion close ups of his digital camera and other tech gadgets in action, flashbacks to 1970s retro-hipster kitsch like Scooby Doo and Plastic Bertrand, fake looking CGI purportedly depicting water and urine flowing through a Camelbak tube, and “x-treme” loud music and whatever. Indeed the story is twisted so that the main thing that finally compels him to amputate his own arm and get out isn’t his survival instinct, but a vision of his girlfriend.

    Not to mention the worst plague of product brand placements I have *ever* seen in a film, especially soda and fast food.

    I don’t believe all the good reviews this got.

    I suspect the Ralston saga would have made a compelling feature film, had that film been made in 1988 or in 1969. Thankfully there is a decent made for television documentary: “Survivor: The Aron Ralston Story”, which I’d recommend picking up in lieu of “127 Hours”.

  17. In the show it has him seeing a future wife and son to keep him going. Did that really happen?

  18. I started loving this film within the first few seconds. 127 Hours begins immediately with the sound of Fresh Blood’s “Never Hear Surf Music Again” (“There must be some f*%#ing chemical, chemical in your brain, that makes us different from animals, makes us all the same.” etc…) just as featured in the 1st trailer. That not-ripped-off euphoric feeling (how many times have you seen a trailer with a perfect song/music and then felt betrayed that it wasn’t in the film later… yeah, me too) carried on all the way through the rest of the film.

    The film has an energetic start with a split screen showing office-bound commuters/workers going along their daily drudge while our lead, x-treme biker/hiker/climber Aron Ralston (played to perfection by actor James Franco) packs his gear (unfortunately not finding his Swiss Army knife which might have made a lot of difference to him later on) for a trek into Blue John Canyon country in Utah. While on his way he has a brief fun climbing/diving/swimming interlude with two female hikers (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn). He then heads off on his own and at about 20 minutes into the movie takes a tumble with a small boulder that ends up pinning his right arm against the side wall of the thin crevice of a canyon. And that is where we are with him for the next “127 hours” (but only 1 hour of screen time) that it takes him to get loose.

    I’m not going to spoil that resolution here, although most will likely hear about it anyway before seeing the movie. An obvious clue that he survives is given by the screen credit early in the film that says it is “based on the book Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston”. The guy must of survived if he wrote a book about it right? Well, you can survive in many ways and not all of them leave you whole (both mentally and physically).

    Director Danny Boyle brings a lot of the key Oscar-winning players of the Slumdog team back for this new film. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, soundtrack composer A.R.Rahman and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (this time paired with Enrique Chediak) are chief among those. As an added bonus, from the director of the toilet-diving cam in Trainspotting, we now have the “desperately thirsty character saves his own urine so it can be filmed while drunk through a tube”-cam in this movie.

    At the Toronto Film Festival’s 2nd screening of the film, Boyle was there to take questions from the audience and his enthusiasm and excitement about the film were infectious. Tidbits included his talking about their 6 days of location shooting followed by a sound-stage recreation of the canyon based on 3D scanning imagery. Boyle also praised actor James Franco and emphasized how every time we see him in a new film he is stretching his talents and abilities, unlike many lead actors who are just basically playing themselves in various different situations.

    Boyle said that for an audience to watch what would otherwise be deemed “unwatchable” you either had to be making a schlocky/not-to-be-taken-seriously horror movie OR you had to make the audience completely identify with the character to the extent that they would believe that they themselves would have done the exact same thing to save themselves if they had to. Well, Boyle succeeds in making you believe it.