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
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