If there's one thing Aron Ralston (James Franco) loved, it was setting out on his own for a weekend of exploring and adventuring, just him, his mountain bike and a few supplies - maybe his camera too, to record the experience. So it was this morning in 2003 that he left his apartment, got into his truck and drove all the way to the wilderness of Utah, with its areas of natural beauty, canyons and all. After parking his vehicle, he set off on his bike, ready to face the landscape alone - but as it turned out, he might have been better telling someone where he was going.
That was the essence of 127 Hours: make a connection with someone because connections are vital. In its way, director Danny Boyle's recreation of the true story of Aron Ralston was an hour and a half of public information film, and it even had that lesson spelled out at the end for all extreme sportspeople, all who think it's a good idea to go walking without alerting anyone first, even popping down to the shops without doing so if you wanted to take it that far. That being, you have to have made that connection to ensure you will survive, as although you never think that anything truly awful will happen to you, there's a chance that one day it might.
And then you have to rely on other people to help you out of it. Boyle and co-scripter Simon Beaufoy found in Ralston's tale an opportunity to make a statement on the essential nature of society, beginning and ending with shots of the throngs around the world Aron wished to escape from for a while, as if to say, we're all in this together folks. That this could be seen as excessively corny, even global village hippy-dippy, was not going to stop Boyle from imparting his sagelike wisdom, and the fact that it really did go so horribly wrong for his protagonist who did not heed that advice and regretted it, only bolstered that warning.
A warning was what it was, for all the dewey-eyed sentimentality that invaded the plot in the latter stages once Aron is trapped. Although he met a couple of young women (played by Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) while out in the area, and had a good time with them swimming in a cave that only the select few knew about, it didn't cross his mind to allow them to make any serious impression on him, picking them up and dropping them not unkindly but with the interest a casual explorer might to a couple of vaguely curious animals he encounters. He certainly recalls them later, when he is in the position to reflect on his life and the possibility that they may be the last people he ever talks to.
The reason for that was so well known even before this film was made - Ralston made headlines across the world - that it might not be much of a surprise to audiences who were fully aware of what they had let themselves in for. Even then, there were tales of viewers crumbling at the crucial moment as their squeamishness got the better of them, fainting dead away, and Boyle did not skimp on the implications of what Ralston was doing to himself once he had become trapped and could see no way out. For a film that is almost all one set and one actor, what could have been monotonous did become genuinely gripping as Franco got to run the gamut of emotions from panic to amusement to despair, talking to himself, chipping away uselessly at the rock, or remembering, and oh how he remembers. Make those connections, says 127 Hours, for you don't know when they will be crucial, either for your peace of mind or your continued existence. Music by A.R. Rahman.
British director, from TV, who started his movie career with two big homegrown hits: Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. His Hollywood efforts suggested he's better when based in the U.K., as both 2005's kids comedy Millions and the hit zombie shocker 28 Days Later were big improvements on his two previous features, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach.
Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, then scripted Boyle's ambitious sci-fi epic Sunshine. Boyle next enjoyed worldwide and Oscar success with Slumdog Millionaire, the biggest hit of his career, which he followed with true life survival drama 127 Hours and tricksy thriller Trance, in between staging the 2012 London Olympics to great acclaim. Business biopic Steve Jobs was a flop, however.