In 2003, 27 year old Aron Raslton left in the middle of the night, heading to Blue John Canyon, Utah – a place he considered a second home. As an enthusiastic mountain climber, he avoids the official route without hesitation. While running through the desert, he overcomes various obstacles with the ease of someone who’s highly accustomed with the place – until his excitement teams up with a loose rock, jamming his arm between it and the wall of a tight rift, for five days. His somewhat irresponsible personality dismisses the importance not only of notifying anyone of his whereabouts, but also of carrying a good knife; something he would later regret, when facing the inevitability of having to amputate his own arm.
Social media was all over this story, and Ralston himself wrote a book about his experience (Between a Rock and a Hard Place), so research material was no problem for Danny Boyle, who stayed pretty faithful to the climber’s report. However, tons of information is not that big an advantage for someone who is trying to make a movie about a guy who is stuck in a hole, alone, for five days; a situation so peculiar that surprised Ralston himself as he stared speechless at his crushed arm. It’s 127 hours of shock, despair, strategic thinking, revived memories, and surprisingly enough, humor. But in between failed attempts there was mostly exhaustion, boredom, silence. Boyle and his team managed to overcome this devastating emptiness through creative sound editing, exploring the tiny and lonely crack with ingenious camera angles, and escaping from the fissure every time Ralston’s effervescent mind allowed them to.
But despite its great script and dynamic cinematography, on camera it’s still a one man show. With an equally charismatic and enthusiastic personality, James Franco demands its audience’s full attention from the start, keeping minds and emotions awaken throughout the entire film. A spontaneous and honest portrait that reveals incredible versatility and undeniable talent. Danny Boyle embraces five whole days of extreme physical demands, paranoia, life changing decisions and unimaginable doings, skillfully mastering the balance between drama and a rather uncomfortable humor, in a thrilling, strangely uplifting, triumphant film. But above all, it would never work if it weren’t true.