Apparently, audiences are now supposed to wait until after a film has been nominated for Best Picture before it can be seen. I think this is a mistake – it shortens the audience’s patience. But this is a film that deserves the accolades it has received. It is the most effective one man show of the year.
. The entire film depends on Franco. It is usually a mistake for a film to depend on one aspect, but it is Franco that makes it work due to his fearlessness and unflinching portrayal of a hiker on the brink of death. He acts not with pain, but with shock and desperation. He also manages to transcend the film and allow everyone to share his journey.
Based on a true story, the film follows a young hiker named Aron Ralston (James Franco) whose arm becomes trapped by a boulder during a hike through a canyon. For the next five days, Ralston attempts to free himself and thinks about his life up until that point.
The film actually reminds me quite a bit of the works of Werner Herzog, especially with its man vs nature themes. But more to the point, it feels as though Franco is really going through that situation. He begs, he pleas, he cries out, he slowly goes mad and interviews himself, in one memorable scene, as though he is on a morning chat show (which the real Ralston ended up on).
While I can compare it to the works of Herzog all day, that connection also made me realize what the film was missing. It is the editing style. By itself, it is wondrous, and is able to convey a large amount of information. But for the material, it does not feel right. My favorite shot in the entire piece was when the camera pulled back and showed the entire vast canyon. I wanted to see more such shots, showing nature pulling down on Ralston. But they were few and far between.
Most of the film was rather internalized, focusing on Ralston’s battle with his own mind rather than his battle with nature. Now, those scenes are highly effective and contain some great acting. That aforementioned scene involving the fake “morning interview” will probably be used at the Oscars when Franco’s nomination is mentioned. I just wish they had been counterbalanced with more of man vs nature, aside from a few shots of the canyon and ants crawling on Ralston’s face. It would have helped the isolation stand out even more, although that does come across in the film.
Still, the film contains many great moments, even outside of Franco’s performance. His dream sequences are some of the best, as I could not tell when they were occurring. One such sequence teases the audience and made me think that the film was over – but no. Also endless premontions (that took me a while to figure out) about an unborn child Ralston hopes to have helped me understand his motivation. It is creative editing and cinematogrpahy, even if I think that it was not quite right for the material.
But as Klaus Kasinski was the stand out in every single Herzog film, Franco is the standout in this film. Usually I simply don’t like films that depend on one actor – it is unfair to teh rest of the film. But something like this needed an actor who could carry it. And, surprisingly, Franco could. He has matured in a way I didn’t think he could. I doubt he will win the Oscar he was nominated for, but he should be remembered for this performance and I have no doubt he will win one eventually.
This is great film and has one of the best performances of 2010. But still, something about it prevents me from calling it one of the year’s best. Maybe it is because of the slow start, or maybe it is because it’s fast editing prevents me from really connecting with the situation. Something like this should build and slowly reveal itself, as Herzog might do. Still, this is a film that needs to be seen by all.