08 December 2010
I worked in a bookstore when this book came out, and even though I didn't read every book on the shelf it was surprisingly easy to stay abreast of not just the gist but the plots of most books that came through. Somehow, some combination of hearsay, reviews, articles, customer comments and the collective unconscious of everybody reading something added up to having a good working knowledge of a lot of books. Between a Rock and a Hard Place was too gruesome and popular not to know about (though I somehow got it in my head that Aron Ralston had to dismantle his camera to find something sharp enough to [SPOILER] cut his arm off with). Anyway it was a well known story in popular culture, "that story of the one guy who got his arm caught in the rocks and had to cut it off to get out of the canyon alive."
So it's impossible to know how I'd feel about this film if that hadn't been "spoiled" for me. It feels from the beginning like everything's building up to an obvious conclusion, what with the obstacle being "your arm is trapped beneath a boulder" and the objective is "get out of the canyon alive." For much of the story, whether or not it was working, I couldn't shake the fact that we were waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. It was a nice touch that he tried early and gave up, but even if you didn't know how it ended, what other option is there? From a purely dramatic standpoint, any rescue from another source would eliminate the necessity of the story being so tightly focused on the one and only real character: the story would have to be their story as well, because they would make the choice at the story's climax and our hero would just have gotten lucky. Anyway, I digress. The point is, this is one of those stories where you can't escape the inevitability of your resolution, and so to an extent the story becomes a dreadful waiting game; your audience is anxious for maybe all the wrong reasons.
To its credit, the film is never boring and almost never feels like it's just spinning plates (a little toward the end with the couch of family & friends smiling blandly at the trapped Aron, and with the child's eerie presence during The Scene). It doesn't lean too heavily on flashbacks, and more importantly it doesn't do it in bland conventional ways. For my taste Danny Boyle is too much of a music video director for the kind of visceral story this is, and the rock music and triptych-effect and not-quite-Oliver-Stone framing and cutting diminishes the experience almost as much as it enhances it. The cutting itself is actually very strong, and the shots are always very pretty, but the stylization and short-attention-span mania made things a little too palatable. I should have been dying in my seat as he snaps his bones and saws through his nerves, but instead I was merely cringing. (Credit where it's due: the sound design for those moments, and throughout, was very effective.) Don't get me wrong, this isn't an easy movie I'm quite ready to sit through again (and I mean that in a good way), but it wasn't nearly as difficult as I imagine it could be, and anything less than grueling feels like it sells the ordeal short. (To that end, I'm also surprised at how short the film is and how fast it's paced. It doesn't feel interminable at all, which is directly counter to the experience of our character, and that again strikes me as trying to make palatable what should be an [enjoyably] unpalatable experience.)
Franco's great throughout, though. I'd never seen Freaks and Geeks, and the first time I saw him was as Harry Osborn in the first Spider-Man movie. I distinctly remember saying afterward, whoever played Green Goblin's son was too good for such a small role, and I was looking forward to seeing the Hobgoblin show up in the sequel. He's an actor that never quite steals a scene but tends to shine just a little bit brighter than whoever else is in the room. Here, of all things, I could imagine his career following the chameleon-like trajectory of Johnny Depp's, but maybe with a little more sense of humor and a little less of that Daniel Day-Lewis/Sean Penn/Johnny Depp impersonation-style externalized performance. (Again, I digress.) The point is, he's very good.
Bottom line, 127 Hours totally works. It delivers what it promises, and it's not easy to sit through. But the style of it kind of watered down the tension for me, and the pacing made over five days trapped beneath a rock feel icky but deceptively bearable.
Seen at the Regal Fox Tower.