Danny Boyle’s newest film, “127 Hours,” has a similar feel to his last. Like “Slumdog Millionaire,” it introduces us to our likeable protagonist — in this case, mountaineer Aron Ralston — and his dire situation. Then it proceeds to invest us further in his plight with brief glimpses into his past. But the similarity ends there.

“127 Hours”

At the Michigan
Fox Searchlight

In this harrowing true story, Ralston is canyoning in Utah when a boulder falls into the canyon he’s navigating and pins his arm to the wall, trapping him for five days with scant resources and no means to contact civilization. As he suffers, his survival strategies become more and more primal, and we are ultimately forced to witness one of the more shocking scenes in recent film memory.

The scene depicting Ralston’s self-amputation was painstakingly planned and executed in only one take. With the aid of medical professionals and a talented makeup effects company, director Danny Boyle doesn’t spare us any of the gory details of Ralston’s crisis.

It’s impressive to note how closely Boyle stuck to the facts of the accident. Many film efforts “inspired by” a true story have taken only the skeletal details of a compelling event and filled in the gaps with heartrending Hollywood drivel. Here we have a tale in which the facts can stand alone and still manage to shock and awe — and then some. Several patrons attending a recent Michigan Theater afternoon showing had to leave during the amputation due to its highly graphic nature.

And this is no isolated incident: the real-life Ralston himself reported to Entertainment Weekly that at a test screening he attended, several peopl fainted. But it’s a refreshing lightheadedness, in that it’s not induced by poor quality of content, but by unadulterated realism that won’t alter its lack of pleasantries to meet viewer expectations. It flirts with the line of gratuitousness, but wisely heeds its restraints and results in a scene that suggests gritty documentary in lieu of horror gore.

Boyle performs small miracles onscreen to maintain a degree of originality. Most of the camera angles that hold our eyes inextricably hostage throughout the film’s final 70 minutes are contained within a 10-square-foot space (save for the intermittent looks into our hero’s past). We enjoy eclectic shots, ranging from an internal view of Ralston’s arm to the bottom of the water bottle his tongue probes for its last remaining drop.

Overshadowing even these formidable directorial feats, however, is James Franco’s (“Howl”) Oscar-worthy performance, which will have each hair on your body standing at attention. His every desperate scream, therapeutic quip and agonizing groan is so convincing that it’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that Franco has a psychic connection to Ralston making him privy to his innermost emotions. What an honor for the brave hiker to endure such a grand ordeal and have his unparalleled act of human resilience reenacted by the most capable actor for the role.

“127 Hours” doesn’t question the value of a life deprived of its full faculties — it proves that value threefold. The film stays true to his indomitable spirit to its end; in a final, inspirational scene, we learn that Ralston enjoys mountaineering to this day with the help of an ice pick prosthetic. The film is at once a commemorative biography and a pulse-pounding thriller, and it’s not for the weak of heart.

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