I have a lot of thoughts about this movie, and I’m not sure if they are cohesive. So hold on, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I need to say first that I love James Franco. Dearly. I know he’s overexposed and insanely busy, especially right now, but I think he is incredible. And not just in the looks department. He’s a fearless person, actor, student, director, all of those things. And he really, truly doesn’t seem to give a shit about what people think. He’s amassed a diverse, full body of work at such a young age and I think he’s only tapped into a small part of what he’s capable of. So why am I “disclaiming” so much? Because I don’t quite want to endorse him for the Oscar on this one.
127 Hours was a challenging film to watch, and obviously a challenging one to make. The result was impressive and breathtaking and suspenseful and all of those things. It was not the best picture of the year, though. Here’s why: As beautiful as the film was, with its scenery of Monument Valley and artistic camera work (split screens, handheld shots, hallucinations, all of which translated really well in terms of representing Aron Ralston’s experience), and its beautiful star, I think the amount of beauty in the movie actually took away from how horrific the story actually was. Of course, it’s based on a true story, and Aron Ralston definitely was A BIG IDIOT to go hiking BY HIMSELF WITHOUT TELLING ANYONE. But it’s a story about desperate and human capability, and yet in all his moments of despair and pain, James Franco’s face never truly captured that pain. He yelled and screamed and contorted and prayed, but I never really believed him. Maybe it was the makeup (or lack thereof) — except for the end, when he was covered in blood, he never really seemed to be in that bad of shape. Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe it’s because it was a true story and it was too horrible to believe. Maybe it’s because the character was so independent, so incapable of relating to people—and we didn’t even see him relate to anyone in the whole movie. Who knows. But I just couldn’t feel Franco in the pain of this character.
While I wasn’t able to get inside the head of this guy as completely as I had hoped for, I did get caught up in the excitement of the whole thing, although it might have something to do with the fact that I knew he was going to cut his arm off before I saw it. At the start of the movie, there’s all this insane foreshadowing, what with Franco running his arms across the stunning orange rocks and getting stuck in small spaces, only to escape minutes later unharmed. Those scenes build up tension really fast, and you’re instantly rooting for Ralston, if not because you like him, than because the situations are so uncomfortable that you squirm at the thought of being stuck like him. By the end of the movie, when you know that the arm-cut-off is coming—and seriously, it’s NOT THAT BAD. NO TENDONS VISIBLE.—you want it to happen. Badly. You want him to gather the courage and power through. You also think to yourself, What would I do in this situation? It’s a scary thing to ponder.
Franco’s work in 127 Hours is not unlike Natalie Portman’s in Black Swan. Both characters are self-mutilating, self-motivated, desperate people, with few redeeming qualities but with a certain on-screen watchability. But whereas I’m rooting for Natalie for the Oscar, I just can’t give it to James. His body was all into the movie, but his eyes were elsewhere. He was probably thinking about one of his Yale classes.
One other thing: When I saw Lizzy Caplan’s name in the credits, I got really excited! Too bad she was BARELY IN THE MOVIE. One scene, and it was just an image of her. I see the resemblance between her and Franco, but that was a cheap shot.
Off the ol’ soap-box now. What say y’all?