November 6, 2010
127 Hours -- it's a wilderness-action-thriller that's about as tense and exciting as a movie can be, considering you already know everything that's going to happen. As Danny Boyle described it, it's "an action movie with a guy who can't move."
Its success is mostly due to James Franco, who's incredibly compelling to watch even when all he's doing is brooding in a canyon. There are about 1,000 ways this movie could have gone wrong and been alternately tedious, ridiculous, and repellently maudlin, but it wasn't any of those. The emotional progression of the movie is so sincere and credible that by the time we get to the gruesome crescendo, it's a totally personal and believable moment. I wasn't even that grossed out. It felt sort of like watching Ralph Macchio deliver the winning Crane Kick. I felt like cheering. It's self-dismemberment as personal growth.
The themes of the movie--exaggerated self-confidence and alienation of everyone around you, leading to slowly dawning loneliness--reminded me of another really good movie that's out now. If you strip away all the circumstantial details, this movie has a lot in common with The Social Network. Both characters rush as fast as they can down their chosen path to success, leaving a lot of neglected relationships along the way, only to find themselves regretfully alone at the end. The difference is that at the end of The Social Network, Zuckerberg's still stuck down there in the canyon.
Danny Boyle is one of the very few directors out there that I've seen every one of his movies. His main characters are often filled with hubris, whether they're trying to take a lot money, explode a bomb inside the sun, find the perfect beach, or conquer a remote canyon without telling anyone where they're going. It almost always turns out OK for them in the end--he's big on happy endings. But he earned this happy ending a lot more than the endings of, say, Slumdog Millionaire or The Beach or even Trainspotting.
Boyle has said he wants his movies to be life-affirming, as dark as they usually are. It's an unabashedly feel-good movie, everyone already knows how it's going to end, and it's still great. I'm impressed.
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