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Ten Word or Less Review: Gripping, gut-wrenching, top shelf cinema

Right on the heals of last weeks tepid actioner Unstoppable comes a film which stands in direct opposition to that underwhelming experience, 127 Hours. Unstoppable had a half mile long train barreling through Pennsylvania loaded with explosives threatening to destroy towns and kill the innocent and never once did it manage to shock or surprise.  127 Hours is about a guy with his arm stuck under a rock and never once is it not completely riveting.  Tony Scott whooshed his camera around his locomotive, had helicopters buzz like flies all over it but never established a unique point of view or compelling sensation of speed.  Danny Boyle sends his camera crawling all over James Franco’s cave prison and never once shoots anything which feels tired or redundant.  In short, one movie has an epic scenario to play with and achieves very little, while the other is tied to one little 3-square foot area and surpasses it in every way.  Limitations can inspire greatness and innovation.

127 Hours is the true story of Aron Ralston, a weekend adventurer who trounces out into the wild, unmanned spaces of Utah to seek spiritual fulfillment and physical endurance.  In a combination of stupidity and bad luck, Aron decided on this particular escapade to keep his destination under hat but then finds himself trapped by a large unassuming rock.  While traversing a small ravine he places his foot on the seemingly sturdy boulder, it shakes loose, he falls, it falls, he lands with his arm firmly trapped between rock and wall.  Neither are going to move.  Thus begins Aron’s non-moving journey of spiritual examination and bodily desperation.  Desperation which culminates in him taking the kind of horrifying action no one wants to imagine but which the film doesn’t shy away from.

Essentially a one man show, 127 Hours spends all of its time with Aron, played with light, enthusiastic charm, and eventually touching remorse, by James Franco.  Franco turns in a small bit of a tour de force performing here.  An actor still finding his way in movies, Franco could’ve easily fallen into the Mathew McCounghey trap, I.E. slowly become a wishy washy movie star who coast on his ample charm and looks through increasingly detestable star vehicles.  But Franco, who flirted with that path, now seems determined to be something else.  He’s an immediately likeable movie presence and if he contimnues to find parts wish push him into new directions, he could achieve a long and interesting career.  After this and Pineapple Express he’s showing a lot of versitility that’s been hinted at for a while.

Behind the camera is Danny Boyle pushing his way through another unothodox story.  A man determined to never make the same film twice, Boyle mines through the cinematic bag of tricks to make Aron’s stationary nightmare an engaging experience from front to back.  Sketched in with just enough movie like devices, but adhering close enough to the truth of the situation, 127 Hours is a film which enthralls, wows and then terrifies.  When it comes time for Aron to perform his mortifying act of escape, Boyle doesn’t wimp out or back away for the sake of the squeamish.  The last 10 minutes of 127 Hours are paralyzing in suspense and can drive viewers with lesser intestinal fortitude right out of the theater.  You’ve been warned.

Fans of great suspense and strong performance will have a lot to appreciate in 127 Hours. While it’s not finding mass audiences in theaters it’s likely to be long remembered and championed by those who do take the plunge with it.  There are few films this year which match its exhilerating highs.

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