Let's be honest with one another. I'd be dead. You'd be dead. Almost everyone we've ever known would be dead. But not Aron Ralston. When this young man found himself trapped, as the saying goes (and as Ralston named his own memoir), between a rock and a hard place, he did the unthinkable. After five days of slowly withering away while his right arm remained lodged between a boulder and a rocky wall in a Utah canyon, he used a small, dull knife to cut off the arm so that he might continue to live.
127 Hours, based on Ralston's book, is writer-director Danny Boyle's mesmerizing account of those fateful five days in the outdoor enthusiast's life. But while a stirring parable about the indomitability of the human spirit, this story doesn't quite lend itself to a cinematic rendition — it just sounds too simple, too constricted. But Boyle and co-scripter Simon Beaufoy (the team behind Slumdog Millionaire) expand the picture in all sorts of marvelous ways. Visually, the film is always hopping with the same energy as its protagonist (played in a career-best performance by James Franco), relying on split-screen techniques and other lively tricks of the trade. And thematically, the picture doesn't settle for the expected "man vs. nature" route, instead realizing that it isn't nature that's at fault but one man's own near-fatal folly.
By turns funny, frightening, inspiring and, yes, nauseating, 127 Hours turns cinema into an extreme sport, leaving us satisfactorily spent.