127 HOURS ***1/2
Danny Boyle’s bold picture about Aaron Ralston’s unique predicament in May 2003 – when he got trapped by a fallen boulder while canyoning in Utah and had to deploy a courageous and grim act to get himself out of it – is a rare beast: a feature-length experimental film. Confining himself for most of the film’s (shortish) running time to the thin slot canyon in which Ralston (James Franco) is trapped, Boyle is loading himself with certain filmic obstructions: besides the single location, we have a single character, who cannot move; beyond that, we have an audience who almost certainly not only knows the ending but knowingly dreads it. The result will not be for everyone – and the awe-inspiring feat of personal sacrifice Ralston pursued is not visually shied away from which will possibly upset some viewers – but it is a huge, brave piece of filmmaking by a director who challenges himself, and his audience, at every opportunity, backed up by a young actor giving an astonishing (and Oscar-nominated) performance.
THE NEXT THREE DAYS ***1/2
Russell Crowe makes films for adults, from screenplays that have been put through the wringer to ensure that they can withstand accusations of implausibility by nature of their sheer, dogged structural imperialism. This can be both a blessing and a curse, and so it is with this finely-detailed, authentic-looking and very well acted thriller directed (and written) by Paul Haggis. The central conceit is hard to take: a mild school teacher decides – and learns – to break his wife out of prison, where she is jailed for life for a murder she may or may not have committed. Rather than simply let us accept this premise and move on, the screenplay is obsessed with showing us every stage of the man’s emotional passage – his highs and lows – that could lead a regular and good person to such a bold and criminal act: it seems like it’s trying to prove that this could happen. In doing so, it will delight some and frustrate others: if you’re in for a good, long, complex and subtle thriller that revels more in the gaining of knowledge than the achievement of action goals, you’ll probably love it (and this was my stronger response); if you’re looking for Friday night action, you’ll almost certainly want to look elsewhere. The film looks, smells and feels extremely authentic, with sterling use of its Pittsburgh locations, and Crowe is, as usual, absolutely terrific, believable, and sympathetic – he remains one of the best screen actors in the business. Elizabeth Banks stretches into dramatic territory as his wife with great success.