December 2, 2010
Sometimes a director is the right person to tell a story. Such was the case with Danny Boyle’s last film, “Slumdog Millionaire," winner of eight Academy Awards, but unfortunately not with his current offering, “127 Hours.”
The movie is based upon the real-life experience of Aron Ralston (recounted in a 2004 memoir with the groan-inducing title Between a Rock and a Hard Place). Hiking alone in Utah’s Blue John Canyon, he fell into a crevasse. His right hand was pinned between the canyon wall and a large immovable boulder. After winching himself into place, he survived for five days with almost no food or water, until he…let’s just say he did some creative surgery on himself, got free, and staggered to safety.
Once he is trapped, the camera stays tight on his face, with two exceptions—one that works and one that doesn’t.
Sustained, natural sound in that canyon, if used to good effect, would have been much more frightening, as it is during one scene when Ralston endures a torrential downpour as loud and massive as ten computer-manufactured tsunamis. For a couple of excruciating minutes, I thought he had actually drowned, slowly and painfully. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
How I wished Boyle had had the courage to stick with what Ralston heard and saw, as hunger and thirst threatened his grip on reality. Wouldn’t the wind have been soft and eerie, his hallucinations a surreal mash up of the here-and-now and the way-back-then? Granted, the movie might have required me to pay closer attention, but my identification with the character would have been more complete.