Saturday, 8 January 2011
This is the story of Aron Ralston.
Enjoys: long walks in the desert, mountain-biking, climbing, listening to music, having wacky adventures in the wilderness.
Would like to meet: huge massive boulder for existential journey of self-discovery and potential self-mutilation and dismemberment.
Hey, kids! It's that one where Jimmy Franco chops his own arm off!
It's not really a spoiler to say that, seeing as it is a true story and it only happened about seven years back. Plus it's the only real reason anybody wants to see this film. "It'll make you faint!" "It's the most gruesome thing mankind has ever conceived!" "He's got an arm off!" Etc.
Franco plays Ralston, an outdoorsy douche who gets his hand trapped between a boulder and a canyon wall and must attempt first to survive and then to escape.
That's about it.
It shares a similar claustrophobic set-up with last year's Ryan Reynolds-in-a-box flick, "Buried", but whereas "Buried" was a tight action-thriller in a confined space, director Danny Boyle treats the conceit here as a ticket into Ralston's increasingly addled psyche.
We see flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations of Ralston's past and even his future, all shot in grainy, arty Boyle-o-rama, and as his mind becomes more unhinged, so does the editing and imagery. Boyle overdoes a few editorial tics here and there, but overall it is visceral and vital cinema.
The big surprise here is how funny the film is, displaying a lightness of touch completely at odds with the potentially bleak and harrowing situation. Much of this is down to Franco.
Franco is simply awesome. It's a similar kind of performance to Reynolds' in "Buried", but whereas Reynolds was continually dealing with plot developments, Franco gives us what is essentially a 90 minute character piece. He makes Ralston simultaneously likable and a little repellent, smug but earnest, self-aware but stupid, innocent yet wily, and lots of other contradictory statements. It's a great performance and, come Oscar time, expect to see the scene where Ralston interviews himself on an imaginary talkshow in the "Best Actor" nominations reel.
"But what about the arm-chopping?!", I hear you cry. Well, it is gruey, but it's nothing you haven't seen worse than in a "Saw" film or summat. It is, however a remarkably intense sequence that is foreshadowed and built up to almost unbearably tense effect. Boyle presents the chopping like a frenetic action sequence, all jagged edits and pounding music, as if our hero is finally knuckling down to kick some ass. His own arm's ass.
It's a peculiarly exhilarating scene, almost as if we go through the cathartic operation with him. We want that bastard arm off! And when it finally is, the relief is palpable.
There are moments where you may find yourself questioning whether Ralston REALLY talked to himself that much, or pondering the authenticity of Ralston's account (he finds video footage of the two hotties he was guiding before boulder-gate, pauses a nice wet-t-shirt cleavage shot and then decides against cracking one out? Come on!), and the flashbacks and psychological images don't really reveal much, but these are quibbles that get squished under a mighty rock of quality.
My personal complaint is that, after going through all this shit and having something of an epiphany that he might just be a selfish cock-knocker, we find out that Ralston is still an outdoorsy douche to this day, but he must be even more insufferable now because he does it all with only one arm. Or a robotic claw or something. So he didn't really learn anything.
So see it for an intense and inventive excursion into a slightly dickish man's long, dark tea-time of the soul, and a near-perfect one-man show by the one-time Harry Osborne.