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'127 Hours' starring James Franco closes Philadelphia Film Festival

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127 Hours; Harrowing, blisteringly intense tale of human survival closes out the Philadelphia Film Festival.127 Hours Photo From Fox Searchlight

127 Hours, based on the true account of one man’s battle and journey of sacrifice while trapped in the canyons of Utah, is one exhilarating, disturbing, revealing gorgeous piece of entertainment. Director Danny Boyle’s one -man show is exactly the kind of crowd pleaser that will likely be remembered during awards season.

127 Hours shoots off the cannon at a ridiculous speed. The energy pouring out of the film during the first half hour is enough to give even the most adventurous moviegoer an adrenaline rush.

These high-octane sequences introduce the audience to Aron, a real life daredevil who clearly lives life to the fullest in every way. Aron is the kind of scattered individual that would jump off Niagara Falls for fun, but good luck having a cohesive conversation with him for more than five minutes. He’s far too busy playing Russian Roulette with life to answer his mother’s yearning voicemails, or tell his boss where he’s headed for the weekend. Even when the sprightly climber encounters two attractive girls lost in the desert while canon jumping in Moab, Aron only allows himself to decelerate briefly, before zipping off like the roadrunner to encounter his next challenge.

However, unbeknownst to Aron, the cruel hand of Mother Nature has other plans. While attempting to cross over a dangerous canyon, he slips at falls, dislodging a massive boulder that literally crushes his hand and pins it to the mountain. Initially panicked, Aron tries everything in his might to life the massive rock off his arm, but to no avail.

That’s when things get interesting. At this point, the title of the film flashes across the screen, which is likely to cause a pit in audiences’ stomachs as they realize this is only the beginning. Whether he lives or dies, Aron is stuck in between this rock for the next five days, and the viewer’s must endure his journey as well.

I would be hard pressed to think of any film in the past ten years that really makes you feel as if you are right there with Aron, feeling every bit of his pain, going hungry with him, slipping out of reality with him and finally, and most importantly, suffering through the imminent decision necessary for his possible survival. Director Boyle completely immerses the viewer in Aaron’s experience. Throughout the five days, Aron recounts deep memories of childhood and first love, but also about the beautiful simplistic things, such as the insatiable desire for a lukewarm Gatorade that’s sitting back in his jeep, or the absolute joy derived from feeling 15 minutes of sunlight against one’s body. It’s all of these things that Aron took for granted in life, and it is those things that we take for granted as well.

James Franco bears the screen for almost the entire 90-minute runtime, and is a thoroughly engaging and human hero. He creates some of the live footage the real life Aron Ralston filmed with a camcorder, in a haunting, accurate manner. During other stretches, Franco acts completely through facial expressions, which he utilizes phenomenally to reveal multiple layers. Only one glimpse into his eyes reveals immense sadness, guilt, fear, and regret. This is easily the best performance of a consistently rising actor’s career.

127 Hours isn’t perfect. Boyle’s attempts to earn sympathy for Aron during flashbacks of his distant parent relationship and his loss of first love aren’t always successful, coming off cold and ineffective. Also, the last fifteen minutes are directed with such a heavy hand that the film almost veers into eye rolling territory. Still, as a claustrophobic frightening account of one man’s fight for survival, or even an as epiphany for how we should all appreciate all that life hands out, 127 Hours is 94 minutes of stellar filmmaking, filled with joy, horror, sacrifice and redemption.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

127 Hours Photo From Fox Searchlight