I had been keen to see the film anyway, having heard great things about the performance from James Franco and the film. Unfortunately Danny Boyle was on form, but fortunately the film and Franco had something special to offer.
127 Hours opens in traditional Danny Boyle style, Trainspotting style. The colours are bold and bright, the action frantic, split screen, and the musical score is as loud as it can be, pounding the images through with some colourful opening language in the lyrics to boot. I felt like I was watching Trainspotting II which was fine for the opening of the film where the character is all about action, living for the moment and racing onto his next thrill, but the problem is that these characteristics carried on into the film even when they weren't needed or wanted.
While the split screen action dies down a little, all the other aspects of Boyle's style are there, and when we're focussing on a man on his own, trapped in a single location and unable to move, they were all too much. There were some scenes when we were concentrating on a dramatic moment and the pounding musical score came to life drowning everything else out, moments that would have felt much better if the entire film had just focused on the main character and his situation.
There were a few moments where the editing and the score became so frantic that the film cut right in the middle of one techno track to another different track without a beat in between, and yet all the time we were still sitting in the one location with our main character. It felt stilted, forced and very at odds with what the film was trying to show us.
The score wasn't the only thing that did this, at times the camera effects were distracting from the character and his situation and I do believe that silence and focus of the audience could have made for some far more dramatic elements than we saw.
This frantic pace does slow through the film and we do get some very powerful sequences of James Franco delivering a strong performance. It's here that we witness some of the clever aspects of the film where we flip around in the time frames of Ralston's mind or delve into his imagination, and these are by far the most gripping and moving parts of the film.
Apart from these directorial and soundtrack issues, I felt that the film lacked a bit of impact about the complete hopelessness of the situation for the lead character, while it did engage me on his situation, it seemed quite matter of fact that he was hopelessly lost, and while there were sequences where the character battled with his fate and finally accepted it, these didn't seem to carry the weight that I would expect they would have in real life. Perhaps that's the way things really happened, I'm not sure, but the effect for me as an audience member wasn't the one I would have hoped for.
There has been a great job done on building a strong visual story in what is a single, cramped, isolated location with one character. You could say that this is a stage play adapted for a widescreen cinematic experience, and for the most part it works well.
The sequences in the canyon were just enough and when events moved on we were ready, but I did feel that the next part of the story was a little rushed and felt like we were careering onwards to get it out of the way so we could end up with the montage at the end of the film to show us where everyone is now.
Saying all that there are some great moments which come out of the flashbacks and particularly James Franco's performance. When he finally realises that this is it we see his gentle commentary to the video recorder and through to his parents which is hugely touching. Franco does play this really well.
There are two particular moments where not only does Franco perform fantastically but the audio slots into place perfectly. Both of those are during the more gory scenes, although I have to say not as gory as you might think, most of it is in the mind and heightened by the audio and performance. Why can the audio work so well here and be so out of place everywhere else?
The ending is good although I think it could have spent a little more time on the final journey, it still had quite the effect. Reading the actual events of his journey I found this end sequence to be even more startling considering what had come before, and yet the film just tears through it.
I did enjoy most of the film, but the desire of Danny Boyle to keep the frantic pace and audio through sequences where I would have preferred to have focused on the character and his plight really did affect my enjoyment of it. The soundtrack was way too overbearing and at times the style overtook the substance.
James Franco is undoubtedly the draw here and provides the reason to see the film. He pulls you into the character and during some of the more personal and introspective moments he manages to capture the audience and make them feel the weight of the moment.
A mixed bag of a film that, if you're a Boyle fan you'll love, and if you're a Franco fan you'll find enough of his performance coming through to keep you fascinated by the film and the character. It's far from perfect though.