Aron Ralston is a 35 year-old mechanical engineer and mountaineer who was exploring eastern Utah’s Blue John Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in the spring of 2003.
That’s where the agonizing events described in his 2004 book Between A Rock And A Hard Place took place.
James Franco plays Ralston in the Oscar-nominated film, 127 Hours, which draws its title from the hour-by-hour drama the climber underwent after an 800-pound boulder shifted above him as he scaled a 10-foot drop between two ledges of the canyon.
Dodging the boulder, he found that it had pinned his right hand to the canyon’s sandstone wall.
Low on food and water, Ralston endured a five-day ordeal that tested his survival skills to their very limit. Franco, whose last major film credit was in the 2010 Eat Pray Love, conveys Ralston’s character and determination admirably.
What the film also conveys is a certain self-confidence that teeters on arrogance, which we see early on as Ralston tries to impress two girls hiking through the canyon before his predicament began.
Later, as he films himself with the video camera he has brought along to record his exploits, Ralston acknowledges some of that arrogance.
He admits to himself that part of his predicament is of his own doing. He had not told anyone of his expedition plans, and had set off alone and unannounced, instead of bringing a hiking companion with him. His equipment was inadequate for the task.
After the numerous interviews Ralston has given, it’s no spoiler to reveal that the cheap Leatherman knock-off he brought along was the substandard means for the self-administered amputation that ultimately freed him.
The realism of the scene in which Ralston first breaks the radius and ulna bones at his wrist, so that he can cut off his hand with his cheap and dull knife, is one that has generated a fair amount of controversy.
A tribute to the skills of makeup and special-effects designer Tony Gardiner, and filmed in one long take with multiple cameras, this is not a scene for the squeamish. Apparently it induced more than one fainting spell when 127 Hoursmade its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival.
This is a very different sort of film for Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, and his skill at putting Franco through his paces in what is essentially a one-man show holds our interest right through to the closing scene.
The appeal of a film like 127 Hours is its unerring ability to stick to reality as much as possible.
It’s an underplayed drama, with its focus always on one character and his ability to survive through using a calm, rational and fearless approach to problem-solving that many of us may aspire to, but few actually attain.
The film has been nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing and Original Score.
127 Hours plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 7:15 pm only, and is rated 14A for gory scenes.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.