Thursday, December 16, 2010

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This Movie...Rocks

I'm in the theater, watching 127 Hours, my mood somewhere between cautious optimism and mild skepticism. I was interested in this movie for a while, and after hearing some good things about it, there was no way I was missing it. Yet the film opens with shots of people at sports matches (?!), and proceeds to get edited the hell out of, with three images playing at once, POV shots from the bottom of a water bottle, constant cutting cutting cutting, never letting an image play for too long, focus drawn to Aron Ralston's little HD cam instead of the actor, etc., etc., etc.

Then, moment by moment, as the film progressed over its 90 minutes, I got it. It feels so strange to say that every moment in this film has a pay-off -- strange because this could have been a straightforward narrative, a test of will for the audience who have to earn that triumph of the end. But writers Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle (who also, of course, directed) don't play that game. They've crafted a fascinating story that is only superficially about the Will to Survive and the Triumph of the Spirit. What it's really about, for me anyway, is companionship. It's the same message of Into the Wild -- Life is better when shared with others -- but the guy actually lives to put that into practice! Hope! Triumph! Beauty!

My favorite shot. Regrets, beautifully visualized.
James Franco is Aron Ralston, and he's great. Franco's a pretty guy who comes off as kind of smug; perfect casting, then, for the initially self-centered, emotionally distant Aron. He ignores his mother and his girlfriend, preferring to do everything on his own. It's that recklessness which leads to his getting pinned by a rock in the middle of nowhere, having told nobody where he is, under-prepared for a unexpected situation. And of course, being stuck without any human contact for five days makes him appreciate all the people he ignored. At one point, I actually thought to myself, "Wow. If Franco's got a chip a shoulder, he's earned it. Look what he went through." Then I reminded myself that he was just acting, that the crew didn't pin him there, that he was given breaks and lunch and everything. But full credit to Franco's charming and anguished performance for actually selling me on the situation; full credit also to the makeup people who made him look so sick and dehydrated. Spooky work.

A.R. Rahman's score is well-done, much better than his remix work on Slumdog Millionaire. Jon Harris's editing puts us into Ralston's increasingly fractured mental state, and it's neat to see how the techniques earlier used to show us a bustling, free-wheeling life can suddenly convey entrapment and desperation. Well-executed, really. The sound design, the cinematography, even the casting -- crucial in believably populating Franco's family and social lives so that we see something worth getting out of that rock for -- everything was expertly done.

Go for it. It's actually entertaining, with welcome moments of humor and suspense. But it's also an exciting and uplifting story, well-told.

3 comments:

TomS said...

Interesting title for this particular post...!

Since I was one of maybe 3 people in the entire world that did not care much for "Slumdog", I wonder if this film would be my cup of tea. I have misgivings about Boyle's style, a forced exhilaration on grim subject matter.

I will go on your recommendation....and remember, "I know where you live" if it lets me down..!!
Seriously, Walter, another well-written review.

Caleb Strul said...

I loved this movie. In my top ten this year no question. When that rainstorm scene happened I remember hoping for just a second that this was actually not the story I remember and maybe he actually was washed free... But then, you know, it wouldn't be the movie it is. Not by a long shot. Props to taking such a simple and terrible situation and making it legitimately entertaining. It could have so easily been Buried, but it went another route and worked it masterfully. Glad you liked it too.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Tom: I can be quite a punster...

Caleb: The rainstorm is all the more sucky because you know going in that it's not going to happen. I remember not feeling any thrill or excitement in that scene, just a crushing depression.