Armed & dan­ger­ous

Danny Boyle’s true-life drama of the ul­ti­mate ex­treme camp-out has a grip that, well, doesn’t let up, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

IN 2003, 28 year-old am­a­teur dare­devil Aron Ral­ston was hik­ing through Utah canyons when an an­cient boul­der be­came dis­lodged and landed on him, trap­ping his right arm.

A qual­i­fied en­gi­neer and ex­pe­ri­enced sur­vival­ist, Ral­ston had plenty of ideas how to ex­tri­cate him­self. Un­hap­pily, af­ter five days none of them had done the trick. Deliri­ous from drink­ing his own urine, the early video di­arist had lit­tle op­tion ex­cept to record farewell mes­sages for his near­est and dear­est and start hack­ing at his dead limb with a flimsy multi-tool.

Ral­ston’s har­row­ing ad­ven­tures made for in­ter­na­tional news head­lines and pro­duced a best­selling book (Be­tween a Rock and a Hard Place). In­evitably there was idle chat­ter about a movie. Then again, there was sup­posed to be a “Hollywood Mo­tion Pic­ture” about that Je­sus-shaped potato chip in Mex­ico. Frankly, it was dif­fi­cult to see where a film-maker might go from the bot­tom of a ravine.

En­ter Danny Boyle, the cheery di­rect­ing tal­ent be­hind Shal­low Grave and the Os­car-win­ning sen­sa­tion Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire. Where oth­ers might see a man down a hole, Boyle sees a man with a movie cam­era. Chan­nelling the ex­u­ber­ance of his early work on Trainspot­ting and the ex­treme sports­man­ship of his sub­ject, the di­rec­tor cre­ates an un­likely ki­netic spec­ta­cle from a ge­o­log­i­cal Skin­ner’s Box. Cam­eras whoosh. Screens split. Hal­lu­ci­na­tions spook. Bones crack.

Much has been made of the film’s vis­ceral de­pic­tion of DIY am­pu­ta­tion, but if au­di­ence mem­bers at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val re­ally did faint away at the sight, they should steer clear of that ter­ri­fy­ing Lu­mière flick with the train com­ing at you: this is a money shot de­signed to pro­duce squeals, not swoons.

The di­rec­tor’s good-hu­moured ram­bunc­tious style may have seen him through the death of the uni­verse (Sun­shine) and a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse (28 Days Later), but he would never have made it out of this film’s lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive chasm with­out the as­sis­tance of James Franco.

Few thesps pos­sess the chops to carry a film in the re­stric­tive cir­cum­stances, but Franco’s al­ter­nately tac­tile, boy­ish, des­per­ate, cocky, de­mented, fool­hardy de­pic­tion of Ral­ston is in­ven­tive enough to hold our in­ter­est over 90 min­utes. And his old-fash­ioned, mati­nee-idol good looks don’t ex­actly hurt ei­ther.

Avant surgery: James Franco as moun­taineer Aron Ral­ston

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