During my 11 and a half hour flight from Istanbul to Chicago after a two hour flight from Izmir to Istanbul and followed by an hour and a half flight from Chicago to Lexington I watched two pretty good movies I missed first go around. This was indeed a long days journey into night (ever had a 32 hour day?). The first of these films I watched was 127 Hours, James Franco’s star turn portraying the true story of a hiker and spelunker who literally find himself between a rock and a hard place (which not coincidentally is the name of the novel from which the movie came). It is a story of courage, and fortitude, and bravery, and also of stupidity, bravado, ego, and irresponsibility— the besetting sins of exuberant narcissistic youth who think they can do ten impossible things before breakfast. What should we think of this movie?
First of all, from a cinematography point of view it is striking, set in the mountains of U.S. West, and also with a home movie feel as the hiker records his own trials and travails and near demise. The title of the movie comes of course from the length of time the hiker in question survived pinned to the wall of a crevice by a large boulder he could not move try as he might (cue the disco song ‘I will Survive’ about now). Danny Boyle (whose name you may remember from his work on Slum Dog Millionaire) does a remarkable job in an hour and 37 minutes of telling a tale that could be viewed as alternatively tedious or tragic, but is neither because of the truly remarkable performance of James Franco in this film. He rightly deserved and got various best acting nominations for his performance in this film.
In some ways this is the quintessential American film about toughness and courage and survival– values highly prized in our culture, not to mention rugged individualism (cue Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ here). That rugged individualism and belief in one’s near invulnerability are also the traits that nearly kill this young man as well. It is no accident that a more chastened man after this ordeal settles down, gets married, makes commitments to others, has a child, and carries on with his life a somewhat physically diminished, but wiser young man.
It has been said that youth is wasted on the young. I do not fully subscribe to this notion, but if 127 Hours is anything, it is a cautionary tale for the young urging them not to ‘be young, be foolish, but be happy’ but rather to ‘be young, but be smart’ when undertake dangerous enterprises. This movie has a certain joie d’vivre to it, that is indeed a trait of the young, and so it has a certain irrepressible spirit to it which is likable. People seldom know what they are really capable of in a crisis, until it is unexpectedly upon them. Like the mother lifting up the automobile single handedly to rescue her child, James Franco shows how ‘single handedly’ a young man survived a near death experience.
This is a far from perfect movie, but as it turns out, while predictable, it ends up being an acceptable romance with some fun thriller moments along the way. For me the real fun was watching Depp play what is an a-typical role for him— the ingenue, the man of malaprops, the awkward poser, the hopeless romantic.
But this film is also a cautionary tale because it shows that just because you have great scenery doesn’t guarantee a great scenario. just because you have A list actors, doesn’t mean they have A list parts. This movie finished with a 19% critic rating on the Tomato-meter and one can see why— unbelievably inept Scotland Yard personelle, all too predictable bad guys, silly implausible scenes (Depp running across a terra cota roof in his PJs and bare feet to escape villains) and the like doomed this film. But for a stranger on a plane, it was a pleasant, if imperfect fiction to engage in while whiling away the time. The strange thing was, I watched 3 old episodes of NY P.D. Blue right afterwards, and they had far better scripts and dialogue and plots, sad to say. In the end one can say that even Jolie cannot make us enjoue and Depp is not adept enough to overcome the flaws in this flick.
P.S. About plane movies. They are of course edited so that anyone can watch them including the young, since censorship is impossible in a plane except by editing the film. In general I have to say that most edited versions I have watched on many plane flights don’t lose much of any of their pizzazz by leaving out the bad language, gratuitous sex scenes, and overdone gore. Imagine that? There is a lesson here for film makers who think that the public won’t watch unless you show some skin, or some blood and guts, or something verbally offensive. Wrong. Most audiences are smarter than that, and that is not why they go to real movies. And while we are at it—- even stars can’t make smart movie goers show up in droves if the plot etc. is poorly done.