by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
"127 Hours:" Oscar Buzz Circling

After Danny Boyle’s triumphant Oscar win last year for “Slumdog Millionaire,” it was pretty much assumed he would have the power to do whatever film project he wanted.

For his next endeavor, he selected “127 Hours,” an inspiring tale based on the true story of a hiker who was trapped for five days and yet miraculously survived, but at the small cost of his right forearm. It’s chilling, claustrophobic, even nerve-racking, but it’s also one of the most fascinating films of the year.

The hiker, Aron Ralston (James Franco), begins that fateful day by gathering all of his equipment and heading out the door without telling a soul where he’s going. He makes his way out to what looks to be the middle of nowhere by first driving then riding his bike for a few hours and eventually hiking on foot. During his trip, Aron happens to run into two women on their own hiking trip, Kristi (Kate Mara) and Megan (Amber Tamblyn).

After hanging out for a while with these two ladies, they eventually part ways. Aron continues on his journey which brings him to Blue John Canyon where Aron accidentally slips down the canyon wall and knocks over a loose boulder. Aron falls to the bottom of the canyon where the boulder traps his right forearm against the wall. He tries several times to move the boulder, but finds that his efforts are quite futile. With very little food and water, it becomes a race against time for Aron to save his own life.

This story is pretty well-known. After five days, Aron eventually frees himself by cutting off his forearm. If you think that’s a spoiler, you must have missed the fact that the film is based off of a book he wrote about his experience. However, there’s much more to this film than just the escape scene. Those 127 hours (condensed down into about an hour in the film) are filled with some very interesting material.

Obviously, the first thing Aron tries to do is to simply move the boulder, but with one arm and a rock barely big enough to stand on, it’s hard to get much leverage. Then there’s the hope of chipping the boulder down with a multi-tool, but this also quickly proves to be of very little use. All-in-all, it seems that pretty much anything Aron does to try and dislodge his arm from the trap ends up being a waste of time, but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to give up.

His supplies are few in number and include a container filled with water, a little food, a camera to record his experience, a light, a watch, and some climbing ropes. Some of the things that Aron is able to pull off in this small space are quite ingenious, especially since he only has one arm to do them with. At one point, he is even able to strap himself in a harness and suspend himself so he can get some sleep.

This experience ends up bringing on even worse hardships as the days pass. Aron begins to daydream and even starts having hallucinations which gradually get more and more intense. Some of these are, of course, about him escaping from his current predicament while others involve the young women he met earlier on his hike. The one thing he tries to tell himself calmly is that he doesn’t want to lose his mind, but when faced with such tough circumstances, hanging on to sanity can prove extremely difficult.

Much of the film’s strength comes from the extraordinary performance of James Franco. A vast majority of the movie is simply him stuck in the canyon, but he is able to carry the film quite well. He puts such energy into the character from the very start and makes you feel that he’s rather cocky, but when things get rough, Franco is more than ready to handle the emotional side of the character as well.

There are certain spots that are simply amazing to watch him perform. After being stuck in the canyon for awhile, he really begins to enjoy some of the simple pleasures that most people take for granted. Whenever he takes a gulp of water from his small supply or bathes his body in the short 15 minutes of sunlight he gets, he seems as though he is in paradise while making the best out of this terrible situation.

The time does finally come for the true escape, which has been talked about quite a bit. It is a strong scene, but surprisingly, not all that much is shown, and yet, the scene remains extremely effective at showing the depths to which someone will go to survive. This man was able to cut off his forearm with a cheaply made tool that he got as a bonus gift with a flashlight. Sure he would have preferred the Swiss Army Knife that he left at home, but he makes do with what he has.

Oscar buzz has been circling this film for the past few months and it could very well walk away with at least some nominations for picture, director, and actor, among others. Boyle and his crew were able to take a simple and terrifying situation and turn it into an intriguing 90-minute film. Even though we know he gets out, that time he spends in the canyon has us wondering when he will have the courage to do what’s necessary and is not likely to be forgotten by viewers anytime soon. 3.5/4 stars