Presenting the so-called feel good film of the year: a story about a mountain climber who literally gets caught between a rock and a hard place and must survive by enduring feats of physical strength comparable to the body mutilation challenges on exhibition in the Saw movies.

Director Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours was inspired by the true story of Aron Ralstron (James Franco), an adventurous 20-something full of vim and vigour who journeyed alone through Canyonlands National Park in Utah and, low on water and food, got his arm caught between a boulder and a wall of rock.

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In an early scene Ralstron falls off his bike, smiles and takes a happy snap of himself lying on the ground — soon, however, he ain’t gonna be smiling no more.

Ralstron wrote a book about his experiences (appropriately titled Between a Rock and a Hard Place) so we know he got out alive; in fact, a great deal of viewers will see the film already knowing how it ends. 127 Hours is therefore about The Journey rather than what eventuates.

Boyle, a difficult to pigeonhole filmmaker, offsets the mundane premise of the story by pumping it full of flashy edits: there are split screens, time lapses, loud songs, extreme changes between close-ups and long shots. If he doesn’t overween the material, he comes damn close.

The opening scene is directed like a Gatorade commercial crossed with a music video – there are crowds of people walking and riding; there are cars, lights, traffic and constant moving, all of which provide an unusual juxtaposition with the central one-manned-trapped-in-his-own-personal-hell tenant. That juxtaposition never quite sits right and takes away from the film’s dramatic core.

James Franco provides a likable and solid human anchor but the movie’s slick editing keeps us entertained a lot more than he. Compare Franco to Ryan Reynold’s one-man-trapped-in-a-coffin-and-god-damn-it’s-claustrophobic tour de force performance in Buried and Franco’s looks meek and mild.

When Ralstron goes a little coo-coo, Franco’s range widens and he finds himself in more familiar, eccentric territory. Hallucinations and flashbacks make a movie about a bloke stuck in one spot considerably more entertaining.

While 127 Hours impresses on a technical level the film’s bouncy aesthetics and restless energy don’t do its psychological depth any favours. The film lacks the emotional core it desperately needed for the story to resonate. It should have felt inspiring as a triumph over adversity human interest story but, sadly, it doesn’t.

127 Hours’ Australian theatrical release date: February 10, 2010.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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