Let's face facts. The number one reason we all had for going to see Danny Boyle's 127 Hours (other than film criticism duties of course) was to see James Franco cut off his right arm to escape his boulder-induced prison. C'mon, you know it's true. The fact that, for all our indulgent behaviour, we got a well-structured, fascinating movie from foreshadowed beginning to typically upbeat Boyle-esque end, just makes us feel justified in our train wreck style of thinking - even if we did have to wait 85 minutes to finally see the aforementioned amputation. Being the worst-kept secret climax in the history of cinema, this penultimate slicing and dicing, done to delectable disturbance by Boyle's omnipresent camera and Franco's equally omnipresent facial expressions, may be the desired highlight of this film, but when taken as a whole, and not just the gimmiky creature it could easily have become, 127 Hours is Boyle doing what Boyle does best, which is create an atmosphere of constant dread through the everyday, ordinary occurrences of life. Well, that is when he is not showboating with that damned omnipresent (or should I say omnipotent considering the director's penchant for God complexes) camera. But then again, like in Trainspotting, that style of his that can become quite a hindrance at times (though I as a critic, have always liked such stylistic pretentions) works to enhance the story he is trying to tell. A style that made a movie like the overrated Slumdog Millionaire get on one's nerves, here works for the movie at (pardon the pun) hand.
But such stylistic pretentions aside, what makes 127 Hours as fascinating as it ends up being, is the central performance of James Franco. Basically needing to carry the picture (a few minor characters pop up now and again, mainly in flashbacks or hallucinations, as well as a pair of pretty twentysomething hikers played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara, but it is Franco front and center for a good 95% of this movie) Franco, who has just recently been getting the recognition he has long deserved, rips this film apart with just the type of bravura performance one would need to give in the situation at (pardon the pun again) hand. Weaving back and forth between gung ho spelunker, narcissistic prick, desperate captive and maniacal (albeit rightfully so under the conditions) lunatic, Franco proves that he not only has the star power to hold down his own movie, but the acting chops to get the job done - and done with flair. Of course such a performance is bound to get mired down at times in unwanted, but unavoidable cliche, but Franco's inherent charm and his ability to dig deep down into his methodesque psyche, keeps such criticisms at a bare minimum. As for that scene so desirous for many a moviegoer (and avoided by just as many, including the squeamish missus), it is truly agonizing to watch (as is the moment this trapped outdoorsman must drink his own urine to stay alive) and well worth the 85-minute wait to get there. Perhaps the coda is a bit on the sappy side (as is Boyle's style) though I suppose we do need to know what became of the true life Aron Ralston (married and with an Inspector Gadget-like metal prosthetic all the better to go back into the wilds with - I am not kidding), but Franco's inevitable Oscar nominated performance balances everything out in the end. [02/05/11]