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Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010

127 Hours

Danny Boyle's Dilemma

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If the last movie that you directed won the Academy Award, what would you do as a follow up? This was the conundrum confronting Danny Boyle. His acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire had dominated the Oscars with eight trophies, including the coveted best film category.

Of course, there is an inherent temptation to recapture Oscar glory by revisiting similar subject material and genre. However, an examination of Boyle’s filmmography reveals that he is a quintessential genre- juggler. He has proven equally adept in a depiction of heroin smuggling, “Trainspotting; a zombie flick, 28 Days Later; a touching family-friendly work, replete with touches of magical realism, Millions; and a sci-fi thriller, Sunshine. His Slumdog Millionaire was a feel-good romantic fantasy set in the impoverished ghetto of Mumbai, India.

For his latest work, 127 Hours, Boyle has once again shifted gears. He has made an action flick shot in the great outdoors of the American Southwest. It is based on the grueling true-life ordeal of Aron Ralston, who became trapped in a cave for five days during a solo spelunking expedition. Ralston’s forearm had become pinned under a giant boulder. To extricate himself, he had to amputate it.

I had an opportunity to sit down with Boyle and discuss the challenges that his new film posed. He candidly admitted, “I guess there really is the sense people are expecting a lot after Slumdog. Addressing the film’s grisly details, Boyle explained, “The only reason I got financing is because of the success of Slumdog. It’s a very difficult prospect of a movie. Back then, they thought nobody in their right mind apart, from a bunch of critics, will show up.” He joked, “And the critics only go because it’s free and they have to.” Boyle continued, “I guess that is the risk. You risk everything by doing it.”

Boyle spoke about casting James Franco in the lead role of 127 Hours. Franco is in virtually every frame of the film. Boyle noted, “We knew that we needed an actor, who could occupy the space with charisma. We also needed an actor, who was able to perform multiple characters.” He explained, “The central character has to be able to change and satisfy the palate of the audience and he has to be honest. It’s not just a performance thing. It’s his obligation to keep you interested.” Boyle extolled Franco, “James is unusual in terms of actors. He does stuff, which you sort of expect, like Spiderman and City by the Sea.” But then he does ‘Pineapple Express’ and Milk. That’s quite a range.”

I asked Boyle about his protagonist, who had seemingly flirted with death. Ralston had hubristically eschewed carrying a cell phone and didn’t bother telling anyone that he was going to be exploring a remote cave alone in the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Boyle described Ralston as “Very, very reckless.” He pointed out that in Ralston’s book. “He admits in the past that there was an avalanche in which he had almost killed two of his friends. They’ve never talked to him since.”

Boyle contended that 127 Hours accurately reflected Ralston’s travails. While trapped in the cave, Ralston had carefully chronicled the experience on his videocam. Boyle said, “Few people have seen it. But James and I did.” He indicated a lot of the character’s onscreen dialogue while trapped in the cave is, “verbatim.”  However, Boyle acknowledged that he did take some creative license, “One of the things we changed was that the scene where he goes swimming with girls in the beginning. They actually went climbing. By swimming, we wanted to saturate the film with water, which he was going to be robbed of later.”

Boyle summed up 127 Hours. He observed, “This project is different because it’s not about issues. It’s not about society. It’s actually about a human trapped.”