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Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Performances: James Franco in 127 Hours

No man is an island, but some learn that lesson harder than others. 127 Hours is essentially a story about the importance of community told by focusing almost exclusively on one man, a man who thinks he can set himself apart from the people around him. They say that acting is reacting, which means that an actor who spends the majority of a film on his own has a big task ahead of him. In 127 Hours James Franco proves himself to be more than up to that task.

When we meet Aron Ralston, he's about to embark on an ordinary weekend. He practically flees the city - leaving the house in such haste that he doesn't bother to look for his swiss army knife when it fails to come immediately to hand - to head out to his real home, the open, unsettled space. Here he can all but disappear and enjoy his own private adventure, though he does share a brief episode with two other hikers. In this episode we see Aron as he sees himself: the invincible adventurer, the charming weirdo, the guy who can find the fun in any situation. Seeing him here - how light Franco makes him, how carefree - makes the turnaround the character is forced to endure later all the more profound and affecting.

Aron is not a stupid guy who got himself in a stupid situation; he's a smart guy who got himself in a stupid situation because past success has allowed him to take for granted his ability to emerge unscathed from nature's clutches. After he gets trapped in the crevasse, he continuously proves his intelligence, developing various schemes for escape that come agonizingly close to working. Franco conveys a solid sense of Aron's intelligence, of the way his mind works and makes connections. He also does an excellent job at showing the escalation of Aron's desperation and how it - and hunger and lack of water - affects his ability to think and work. There is a great shift in the character from the beginning of the film to the end and Franco charts those changes Aron undergoes in a very realistic and gradual way.

127 Hours is a film that wouldn't work without an engaging performance at its centre. The big moments in the film are the ones that are heavy on the drama, but there are lighter moments, too, that go a long way towards making us care about Aron and his survival. There is so much more to Aron than his near-death experience and Franco really brings those dimensions out, making Aron a character of great depth and humanity. This is a tour de force performance, one of the best not only of 2010 but of the last 10 years at least.

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