Movie Review

127 Hours

There is no force more powerful than the will to live.
127 Hours Movie Poster

US Release Date: 11-12-2010

Directed by: Danny Boyle


  • James Franco
  • Aron Ralston
  • Kate Mara
  • Kristi
  • Amber Tamblyn
  • Megan
  • Sean Bott
  • Aron's Friend
  • Treat Williams
  • Aron's Dad
  • Kate Burton
  • Aron's Mom
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: November 7th, 2010
James Franco as Aron Ralston.

James Franco as Aron Ralston.

127 Hours is a riveting example of how truth is often stranger than fiction. If a writer had written this screenplay from their imagination it would be ridiculed as beyond belief. The fact that a real person survived such an agonizing physical ordeal makes for the stuff of compelling drama. Director Danny Boyle and actor James Franco prove a potent combination in reenacting Aron Ralston’s terrifying life or death experience with his arm trapped between a large rock and a canyon cliff in a remote area of Utah in the spring of 2003.

With a run time of just over 90 minutes Boyle wastes no time in getting his protagonist into his unimaginably horrifying predicament. We see Aron begin his weekend of adventure. He drives, bikes and hikes all alone, filled with obvious exhilaration of the journey ahead. He meets up with, and briefly befriends, a couple of female hikers before setting out once again on his solitary way. Then disaster strikes.

The remainder of the movie is Aron’s struggle to stay alive and liberate himself from his rocky prison. Eventually he realizes and faces the one gruesome chance he has to escape with his life.

James Franco does an amazing job. He is having a banner year. In my review for Howl I said he deserved an Oscar nomination. For 127 Hours he not only deserves the nomination, but the win as well. He makes you believe he is really trapped with his arm crushed under a boulder. Aron goes through a wide range of emotions from panic stricken to hopeful to defiant to resigned. But somehow he never completely gives up and he shows a remarkable amount of resourcefulness during his 127 hour confinement. I can think of no greater example of the power of the human will to survive.

The climax is unflinchingly graphic but it is not done in an exploitative horror movie way. I had my eyes halfway shut and a grimace on my face watching it, followed by a palpable sense of relief and triumph. It will bring an emotional lump to your throat. When was the last time you saw a movie that did all that? 127 Hours depicts a grueling life or death experience and provides gripping entertainment from start to finish.

Reviewed on: January 17th, 2011
James Franco in 127 Hours.

James Franco in 127 Hours.

James Franco does do a terrific job in this part, but a large amount of credit has to go to script writer Simon Beaufoy and especially to director Danny Boyle who also co-wrote the script with Beaufoy.  They take an incredibly simple story and keep you perched on the edge of your seat with tension, even though (or perhaps that should be, because) you know exactly how the movie is going to end.  I can't think of any other movie where I felt so physically for a character and so much genuine relief when the ordeal was over.

Not only is this the story of one man's physical horror of spending 127 hours trapped in a canyon but it is also the life changing story of how Aron, an emotionally distant loner, learns how much he needs other people, both physically and emotionally.  It is this emotional change that gives the movie its weight and makes you really care about the outcome.

Boyle does a great job of setting up the situation, teasing you at first as Aron climbs through the canyons.  He knows that you know what is going to happen, so you almost wince when you see Aron's hands touch a rock or climb down a cliff, just waiting for the moment when it happens.  And when it eventually does and Aron yells for help and the camera pulls up and out of the canyon and keeps going higher and higher, revealing more and more empty landscape, you realize that Aron couldn't be anymore alone even if he were on Mars, which the landscape so resembles.  It's a scene that leaves you with a pit in the center of your stomach.

By weaving Aron's illusions, delusions and memories into the film, Boyle keeps the story from feeling too claustrophobic.  Through these hallucinations and Aron's monologues into his video camera you come to know him and understand what brought him to his current predicament. 

As Patrick said, Franco does a fantastic and award worthy job in the part. He carries the movie and draws you in until you feel a connection to his character that is quite rare.  You feel his pain, triumph for his victories and finally blessed relief at the conclusion.

"A triumph of the human spirit" sounds like one of those cliched lines that you find on the bottom of a movie poster or plastered on a movie ad in the New York Times, but I can honestly not think of a better line to sum up this brilliant film.

Reviewed on: March 2nd, 2011
If a loner screams in the desert and no one is around to hear it, does he make noise?

If a loner screams in the desert and no one is around to hear it, does he make noise?

Franco has too often been miscast in love stories like Annapolis, Tristan and Isolde, and Flyboys.   He has gotten too old for the disassociated youth roles he played in James Dean, City by the Sea and Spiderman. I nearly counted him out, but then in the past few years he has creatively found himself.  He has a knack for comedy as demonstrated in Pineapple Express and in Green Hornet. His best work though is in playing real people. You forget your watching him in Milk, Howl and here as Aron.  

Boyle starts the movie with crowd scenes of city streets and sporting events.   It works in comparison to how alone Aron is in the canyon.   The point is that no man is an island.  We are part of a community, no matter  how much we may want to separate ourselves from it.   Nothing makes that point better than when disaster strikes and we start begging for help.   Suddenly the loner wishes he was anything but. 

The flashbacks are confusing.  Why do all of the family flashbacks feature a couch?  The Scooby Doo visions are never explained.  The highlight of the film was the cinematography.   Boyle films this desolate place in such an artistic way that I imagine it has been visited often since the release of this movie. 

My brothers loved this film, but I will make any bet that neither ever sits through it again.  Aron is not interesting enough of a character to watch alone.  The entire plot is simply a loner discovers he needs other people.  In between he cuts his arm off.  The end.   Decent work by Franco and Boyle, but it worked better as a news story than a scripted movie.

Related Review