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‘127 Hours’ is extraordinary story of survival

‘127 Hours’ Starring: James Franco Pitchforks: 4.5 out of 5 Rating: R Opens: Nov. 5

“127 Hours” opens with a lone mountain climber biking and hiking through a valley in Utah. On his journey he has a brief encounter with two fellow hikers, played by Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara.

At first you may think this movie is going to be in the spirit of “Into the Wild,” telling the story of a man’s expedition through the wilderness and the people he meets along the way. The audience is then swooped into a completely different movie as the mountain climber falls down a canyon and his right arm is crushed by a bolder. The screen reads “127 Hours,” verifying that this is going to be an extraordinary story about survival.

This man is Aron Ralston, a real life mountain climber who experienced the events of this movie first hand.

Aron tries to free himself by fruitlessly tugging his arm out from under the bolder; he even makes a pulley device with some rope to lift the rock. But it’s no use. His water supply is limited and, even worse, he hasn’t told any of his friends or family where he was going. The only option Aron has is to amputate his arm. Even that seems fruitless, as he left his army knife at home and only has a dull knife on him.

Aron is played by James Franco, who seemed to be taking a major step backwards in his career by doing a reoccurring role on “General Hospital.” Now Franco comes back with a performance that may very well earn him his first “Best Actor” nomination, redefining his true range as a performer. Franco is 100 percent authentic as Aron, fully embodying the human drama of his character’s predicament.

At times Franco resembles Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” But instead of talking to a volleyball, Aron’s one companion is his video camera. Through his camera, Aron expresses his regrets in life and, in a heartbreaking scene, says goodbye to his loved ones, confident that he won’t make it out alive. In a few concise flashbacks we delve into Aron’s failed romantic relationships and his need to be self-sufficient that has led him to this bleak state.

The director of “127 Hours” is Danny Boyle, who previously brought us the pitch-perfect “Slumdog Millionaire” that rightfully won him the directing Academy Award. With his follow-up film, Boyle delivers another unexpectedly uplifting piece of entertainment. Although most of the film takes place in a remote canyon, Boyle still captures different shots that are beyond belief. A few months ago I was ready to serve Wally Pfister of “Inception” the “Best Cinematography” award on a silver platter. But after witnessing Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak’s feat of camera work here, there may be some heavy competition come Oscar Sunday.

One film that “127 Hours” is bound to draw comparison to is “Buried,” an overlooked independent feature in which Ryan Reynolds is trapped in a coffin for the entire running time. Both films are terrific in their own respect, but “Buried” is really more in the tradition of a Hitchcockian thriller.

“127 Hours” is a far more optimistic film, or at least as optimistic as any film can be about a man confronted with the options of amputation or death. That’s simply the magic of Boyle as a filmmaker. He can start off a film with something as tragic as a little Indian boy’s mother dying or a young man getting crushed by a bolder. By the end of the movie though, Boyle leaves you with a stimulating feeling of hope.

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