Friday, November 12, 2010

Franco adds weight to stoner persona in boulder saga ‘127 Hours’

With “127 Hours,” Danny Boyle’s career comes full circle with a film that once again makes use of the tourniquet a la “Trainspotting.”

His tenth feature arrives on the heels of Oscar wins and takes on the true story of Aron Ralston, who in 2003 went to great lengths to survive while trapped between a rock and a rigid spot.

If watched back-to-back with “Slumdog Millionaire,” a crime-tinged romance lacquered in artificiality, the opening five minutes are bubbling with passion. Shown in a three-panel split screen, the hyperkinetic opening presents huge crowds amid global haste. Then, enter the solitary Ralston, portrayed with commanding sincerity by NYU grad student James Franco. He leaves home in the early morning to embark in a canyoneering trip through Blue John Canyon in Utah and tells no one where he’s going.

His right arm goes without circulation for five-plus days in the recesses of a cave. Within 10 minutes of running time, Ralston’s trapped under a boulder, which initially had me worried. The movie keeps the story compelling as we’re caged in with our Castaway.

Most folks going in already know how the story will unfold, but the anxiety of the situation had a boy begin to vomit in the row in front of me.

If Boyle hadn’t taken it on, the tale would have been relegated to a two-minute blip on a broadcast newscast or fodder for a short screening at the Tuttleman IMAX dome.

Franco takes his career to new heights, acting bleary-eyed and aloof with none of the stoner drollness.

His family is played by Lizzy Caplan and, in inspired casting, Treat Williams, who also worked with Franco in “Howl.” I craved more Williams screen time, but that’s not uncommon.

I had a problem with how “Into the Wild” portrayed the family as caricatures. Even poor William Hurt. “!27 Hours” employs them for the sake of brevity and atmosphere without making much of a statement.

The film is sparsely plotted with Aron’s several futile attempts at escape and a memory recall of snapshots from his life. The retrospective would be more meaningful, not only if they were longer but if the 28-year-old had lived a more remarkable life.

Boyle, arguably too anxious a filmmaker for straightforward source material like this, gets stylish when filming inside Aron’s camcorder, his bottle of water and even the water itself. These shots struck me as David Fincher’s territory, but it worked. When it comes to the few grisly moments however, the camera is stationary.

Boyle re-teamed with “Slumdog” crewmembers, his writing partner Simon Beaufoy and music composer A.R. Rahman, all of whom possess Academy Awards. Compared to back when he debuted with “Shallow Gave,” he’s working with an almost entirely new set of people.

Franco dives deep, and Boyle makes a film about courage and perseverance even if it the end product does not warrant repeated viewings.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10