James Franco is a marvelous character actor who has exhibited an enviable range in a string of memorable support performances in everything from "Spider-Man" to "Pineapple Express" to "Milk" to "Date Night." In "127 Hours," the subtle scene stealer was afforded not merely a rare opportunity at a lead role but the luxury of basking in the limelight all by himself for the bulk of the picture. That's because this is a stranded in nature vehicle reminiscent of such survival flicks as Tom Hank's Cast Away and Emile Hirsch's Into the Wild.
Directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), the harrowing adventure recreates mountain climber Aron Ralston's real-life ordeal during the spring of 2003 in a desert region of Utah far removed from civilization. While there for a Saturday hike, the young outdoorsman ended up trapped in a ravine when his arm became pinned to a wall by a dislodged boulder.
Because Aron hadn't informed anyone of his itinerary before setting off alone, he knew there wouldn't be any rescue party organized to look for him. In fact, no one even noticed his absence until he failed to show up for work after the weekend.
So, the desperate 28-year-old had to pin his hopes on the possibility of another climber's coming along by chance. But neither his prayers nor bloodcurdling screams were to be answered over the next five days, leaving the unfortunate lad simply stuck between a rock and a hard place in the middle of nowhere.
Thus, from about 15 minutes in virtually right up to the conclusion, this 2½ hour saga basically features James Franco delivering a protracted soliloquy. The versatile thespian more than meets the challenge to convey convincingly the gradually deteriorating physical, mental and emotional states of a person forced by circumstances to reflect upon his life while simultaneously resigning himself to an untimely demise.
After running out of food and water, we witness Aron using his free hand to carve his name and date of birth into the rock. He also videotapes heartfelt farewells to his friends and family, before he becomes delirious due to dehydration.
Far be it from me to spoil the ending for anyone who never read the newspaper account as it originally appeared in the papers. Suffice to say that when Aron finds himself facing certain death, his only option lies in a proverbial Hobson's choice as unthinkable as it is gruesome.
What do you get when you let Danny Boyle put his spin on a fact-based cross of "Cast Away" and "Into the Wild"? An exhilarating episode of "Who Wants to Be a Slumdog Mountaineer?"
Very Good(3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence and disturbing images
Running time: 94 Minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
To see a trailer for 127 Hours click here