"127 Hours" starts like a freight train, a really fun, brakeless freight train, rolling downhill at top speed. Kinetic and pulsating, in typical Danny Boyle fashion it careens around corners, playing snap-the-whip with the audience as you race to keep up with the frenetic pace the Oscar-winning director of "Slumdog Millionaire" sets from the onslaught.
James Franco, tan, handsome, a vibrant livewire, charges off into the wilderness, his internal soundtrack vibrating the walls of the theater. The music, just a touch too loud, plays as if you stole someone's iPod and are running away from the scene of the crime, the last song they were listening to still blasting. In front of you, the Utah landscape, all red rocks and blue sky, stretches as far as the eye can see as Franco romps over and through canyons, in a rugged Cirque du Soleil performance.
Then, suddenly, he's scrambling, falling and—boom—trapped, a boulder pinning his arm to the side of the canyon. The music stops, replaced by silence and labored breathing, and the title card appears: "127 Hours."
In that moment, panic sets in, both for the viewer and the character Franco is embodying, as you realize you're trapped here, in the story, in this canyon. And that, my friends, is damn fine filmmaking!
Walking into "127 Hours," there are certain things most audiences already know. The film tells the story of Aron Ralston, a mountaineer who became famous in 2003 when he amputated his own right forearm after it got trapped by boulder during a climb in Utah, an ordeal he chronicled in his riveting 2004 memoir, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."
With the ending a foregone conclusion, and a narrative that amounts to a one-man show--with your lead character immobilized for 90 percent of the movie--how do you create a compelling piece of cinema? Welcome to the genius of Danny Boyle.
Every frame of "127 Hours" is riveting thanks to Boyle's unparalleled storytelling abilities and Franco's Oscar-worthy performance, one that ricochets from emotional peak to valley in a hair's breadth.
Equal measures heartbreaking and exhilarating, we can't think of another film we've seen that elicited such an auditory response from an audience outside of the occasional cheap thrills of a horror flick meant to make you jump. The simplest moments, like a sliver of sunshine or a dropped object, earn gasps and whimpers from viewers, while the film's climatic scene, one met with cries and shouts, is viscerally tangible.
Boyle calls the film, "an action movie with a guy who can't move." We call it a serious Oscar contender.