Still courtesy of TIFF.
The tagline “Based on a True Story” retains a near-Pavlovian power to park asses in multiplex seats. Even though most movies are true stories of the time someone in a director’s chair turned on an expensive camera and told a bunch of well-paid actors what to do, audiences love to pay to see the inspiring “true” stories of real people. Which is why plenty of people will pay to see 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s latest ninety-minute music video feature-length film, which stars well-paid James Franco as Aaron Ralston, an American mountaineer who made headlines in 2003 after cutting off his lower right arm to free himself from a felled boulder. Here’s why they, and you, shouldn’t.
127 Hours is hackish filmmaking of the worst sort. Boyle (who is one genetic mutation away from transmorphing into a human crane shot) makes no attempt to defer to the merits of his source material, instead making a movie about a man trapped, immobile, in a cave for five days seem as swift, splashy, and split-screeny as the intro to his breakout hit Trainspotting. The tacit, and insulting, assumption is that an audience wants to see a story about a trapped mountaineer, but would get bored just watching a trapped mountaineer. Answer? Jimmy in some saturated flashbacks and pounding tom drums and cutesy camerawork and all the other over-charged flourishes that reflect 127 Hours’s other tagline: “From the Director of Slumdog Millionaire.”
It may be tricky, but it is possible to do close-quarters claustrophobia in a feature film (see: Rodrigo Cortés’ excellent TIFF outing Buried). The problem is that Boyle doesn’t even bother trying. Ralston’s survival story is validly inspiring, in a conquest-of-the-human-spirit-as-MacGyver-episode way. But Boyle’s film only registers as rousing in the most superficial sense.
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