In a move that I’m sure caused many heart attacks amongst his longtime financiers and publicists, Danny Boyle, still riding off the fumes of his 2008 multi-award winning crowd-pleaser Slumdog Millionaire, decided to pursue a film based on the true story of climber Aron Ralston, who in 2003 became trapped in a canyon for five days until he eventually managed to free himself through self-amputation. How could he possibly condense this grueling tale of suffering and the limits of human endurance into 94 minutes? And how could he bring audiences in with such a seemingly down-beat, harrowing plot?
It turns out the story of Aron Ralston, played here by a charming and ultimately sobering James Franco, is one of great perseverance and inspiration. The film doesn’t fixate on the ins and outs of how he found the means to survive, but rather how he found the purpose to survive.
Danny Boyle seems eager to escape the one-actor, one-location minimal set up of the story in favour of fragmented flashbacks and imaginary flights of fancy as Ralston replays events in his life again and again in order to either avoid or rationalise the reality of his dire situation. Throughout the film we are incrementally fed details of his past, in particular the relationships he held with his parents, work colleagues, girlfriend (played by Clemence Poesy) and sister (Lizzy Caplan in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance). Many of these memories are immensely touching, especially in the midst of such a punishing atmosphere. They are for us as they are for Aron; places of oasis in the middle of a desert.
Incidentally, the role of water is also given a vivid screen presence by Boyle, with one recurring shot from the inside of a water bottle a particular stroke of genius as it manages to turn from saviour to salvation to death knell using only a couple of colour and sound changes. Unfortunately his signature visual kineticism and whizz-bang effects extend well into the story’s more troubling moments. I’m guessing Danny Boyle did this in order to keep the story somewhat entertaining, and to alleviate the pressure of long stretches of film where all we see is struggle or futility, but it only pulled me further away from the severity of the situation.
This troubling influence is most evident in the climax of the film, where we see the dramatic rescue of a free, but emotionally and physically drained Ralston that is unfairly drained out by the deafening crescendo of a Sigur Ros song. I would have preferred a telling of the story that avoided such overhanded cliché as was achieved in the similar tale of survival Rescue Dawn, however the heart of this film is in the right place and it’s merits are in it’s ability to convey not only Ralston’s physical struggle but also his mental one.
Movie Rating: 3/5
A Big Welcome and thanks To Pierre who is also another new edition to the Peoples Movies/Cinehouse Blog Team. Pierre will work mostly for Cinehouse but ocassionally help out The Peoples Movies, so welcome on board Pierre!