... Yes, the actual headline was surely a heroic endeavor, but that doesn't mean it was necessary for celluloid...
Personally, when it comes to the Oscars, I don't give a damn. To me, over 90% of the films which contend are all lackluster, linear portraits of vanity. Movies picked out of the bunch because of the people and pretensions involved. In no way am I trying to be a dick about this, but seriously, just because a film is slow, plodding, has huge, beloved actors and filmmakers latching onto it--DOES NOT make it good. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, WINTER'S BONE, PRECIOUS, UP IN THE AIR, THE SAVAGES, AMERICAN GANGSTER, BABEL, NOTES ON A SCANDAL, CRASH, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, SYRIANA, FINDING NEVERLAND, MILLION DOLLAR BABY. . . I could go on, but while these films aren't bad per se, I find them extremely basic, formulaic and forgettable. Yes, occasionally a few will pique my interest such as THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX which I absolutely loved, but for the most part, I find no value in something labeled with the mark of an Oscar--especially when far greater films (in direction, writing, editing, music, etc.) are released every year which aren't given even the slightest bit of attention.
So let's take away the hype; strip away A-list attachments. Let's see the kind of film we're left with.
127 HOURS is quite an undertaking for any writer or director due to the fact that it's not much of a story. . . At all. When it comes down to it, the ONLY aspect of interest that this horrific moment in time garnered was the fact that a man had to amputate his own arm to gain freedom. It wasn't the fact that he got stuck, it wasn't the fact that he escaped--it was how he did. So when one takes that single compelling point and stretches it into an hour-and-a-half long movie, one must wonder what all of that time is devoted to, BEFORE the one sequence of events which gained the story's popularity. In this the film loses its footing and becomes stuck just as its protagonist; utilizing any means possible to free itself from mediocrity--which in turn--provides a distracting backlash against the main plight at hand.
Let it be known that Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors. TRAINSPOTTING might have been 'meh', but both 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE (which was and still is criminally overlooked) are both top-tier narratives of the medium, providing unbelievable imagery, incredible sound design and unparalleled musical compositions by John Murphy. So when I hear "Danny Boyle" and "new film", I'm automatically hooked. Even with a plotline as bare as a porn, I know he can pull it off. With 127 HOURS however, it seems like he bit off more than he can chew. In a desperate effort to rekindle his Oscar magic from yesteryear, Danny Boyle has assimilated a picture which feels much like SLUMDOG albeit with a different story and location.
My main frustrations with 127 HOURS stem from the abrasive exposition thrashed every which way as it vies for attention against the near endless stream of stylish direction and commercial-like interludes. There is simply not enough story here to warrant a ninety minute run-time and Boyle has taken a clouded means of stretching everything out. It becomes boring and redundant the nth time that Ralston goes into what's supposed to be an "emotional" state and has various premonitions and visions of family. I understand the significance of this imagery and how it's supposed to be heart-tugging, but I felt it as a cheap means of gaining sympathy and an even weaker means of character development. Alongside this, the constant need to show camera angles from inside straws, bottles, under this and that--it didn't feel like clever cinematography, it felt like someone trying to force visual content so that they could preoccupy the audience. Much like the textbook guidelines Boyle took to developing the plotline, the flashy yet petty imagery becomes repetitive and a nuisance. One scene in particular plays like an advertisement for various soft-drinks as James Franco's character becomes quite parched. I get he's thirsty, but spastic editing depicting all sorts of drinks doesn't further anything--it feels like I'm watching television, waiting for the station to get back to the show.
As for Franco's performance, I found it underwhelming and blasé. I had heard about how commendable it was, but after having seen it, it all amounts to a, "So what?" Honestly, people, for the first portion of the film, he was paid to have fun. He was paid to bike, swim and hike. The second portion definitely asked for more, but nothing about his performance gained catharsis from here. I was especially disappointed at Franco's means at pain conveyance. Even if your arm has lost a majority of feeling, you're still going to feel FAR more when you break it two ways--not just an uncomfortable "OH!". This goes for the arm amputation as well. While Franco seemed to get into the acting the more he carved his way through bone and sinew, I still didn't find it believable. Having said that, I did find this scene to be of the best two of the film. While the editing did take away from the appropriate grisliness of the act, it worked due to its melding of groovy sound design--the vibrational twang of hitting the nerve especially. Beyond this, my most favored of sequences was the moment of initial limb-crushing. The subtle way in which everything slows down, the film's title appears, and Ralston gradually comes to realize his predicament. Excellent work right here, it's just a shame that another hour followed.
As for the music. This is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to see the picture. Sadly, I discovered beforehand that John Murphy wasn't enlisted to compose this time around (as he did with Boyle before). While A.R. Rahman (with aid from Dido apparently) isn't bad, it's simply no John Murphy. Where his musical cues would have packed emotional weight and power, the tracks herein feel weak by comparison. The energetic style of Rahman's pieces here are appropriate to the personality we're following, but I found none of it memorable or moving.
There's a great deal of style with 127 HOURS, but for me, it simply tries to cloak the fact that nothing's truly happening. Judging it on its own merits, devoid of the hype and Oscar-fanatical excitement, 127 HOURS is just a movie which tries too hard to be more than it is--a movie about a guy who cut off his arm. Yes, the actual headline was surely a heroic endeavor, but that doesn't mean it was necessary for celluloid.