The highly-acclaimed, shortly-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks spawned a multitude of careers. While two of the main stars, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, have gone on to become big names in the comedy genre, their other leading co-star, James Franco, opted to follow a more dramatic road. Following roles in the Spider-Man trilogy and, most recently, in Gus Van Sant’s Milk, Franco is practically the only actor in Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire) latest, 127 Hours.
Does Franco have the ability to carry the movie solely on his shoulders?
127 Hours is based off of hiker Aron Ralston’s autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. For those of you who don’t already know his story, Ralston (Franco) is an adrenaline junkie that goes on a solo hike in Blue John Canyon in 2003, armed with only his basic equipment, camera, and camcorder. After briefly running into and befriending two fellow hikers, Megan (Amber Tamblyn) and Christie (Kate Mara), Ralston ventures off deeper into canyon on his own. While on his journey, he accidentally dislodges a boulder that pins his right arm against a canyon wall. Ralston makes various attempts to escape over the course of five days. However, with his water and food supplies dwindled down to nothing, he has to make a desperate decision in order to survive.
127 Hours is so full of style and energy, you can’t help but get hooked in from the opening scene. Obviously, that’s the point of all movies, but this movie starts off with a bang. The introductory scenes are split into three screens and full of quick cuts and energetic edits. It’s like being on an adrenaline high which, given the premise of the story, makes perfect sense. The camera perspective occasionally shifts to first-person to further envelop viewers into the scene. However, the bulk of the film, which takes place in a claustrophobic canyon, consists primarily of close-up shots. Memory scenes are spread throughout the film to break up the monotony of the canyon backdrop, spurned by various events Ralston experiences while in the canyon. This is reminiscent of the technique Boyle used in his other, unheard-of movie, Slumdog Millionaire. The balance of these scenes and the action sequences in the canyon help the pacing of the film, as well. For a movie that takes place within the confines of a canyon, there never is a boring moment.
Furthermore, don’t let the minor presence of other actors fool you – this movie lives and breathes on Franco’s performance. If anybody had any doubts of whether or not he’d be able to carry a movie by himself, 127 Hours proves that not only can he take the pressure, he returns it with one of the best performances of the year. Boyle obviously had a lot of confidence in Franco and he doesn’t disappoint. Franco’s dynamic range of acting is in full effect in this movie; it’s not all Mountain Dew levels of energy and desperation. There’s a scene where he conducts a self-interview that serves to be a comedic counter to the otherwise dramatic and suspenseful tone. As stated earlier, the bulk of the film is shot close-up to Franco, delivering a sense of claustrophobia. You can’t help but feel every bit of desperation and anguish as Franco shows on screen. It all comes to a head in the climax of the movie. I won’t spoil it here, but you know what’s gonna happen. The quick cuts, the kinetic camera shifts, the harrowing music, the sound effects – it’s nothing without Franco.
Boyle’s envisioning of Ralston’s story is stylistic, well-paced, and traps its viewers’ attention (get it?) over the course of 90+ minutes. All of this combined with Franco’s amazing performance help make 127 Hours one of the best movies of the year. Don’t be surprised when you see it on everybody’s “Best of” lists this year.
8.75 – Spectacular. (Movies that score between 8.50 and 9.00 are some of the best films its genre has ever created, and fans of any genre will thoroughly enjoy them.)
127 Hours is a suspense-filled look into a man’s mind as he faces death. If James Franco isn’t already considered to be an A-list actor, his performance in 127 Hours should be proof enough of just how talented he is.