Toronto: Let's give a hand to James Franco

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Never in a million years would I have guessed at Toronto 2008 that Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, then having its first public screenings, would be a future Best Picture winner. I did like the movie (despite the backlash) and came to realize during the following months how emblematic of the director's style it truly was: fast, kinetic, filled with the freedom and euphoria of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. Here is a filmmaker who loves running. Thus, Boyle's exhilarating latest, 127 Hours, must be called something of a breakthrough: It occurs mainly in a steep canyon ravine, into which happy-go-lucky hiker Aron (James Franco) finds himself pinned by a falling rock in a scary test of survival. There's little running in this one. But Boyle has zero interest in keeping us trapped down there with his character. (See next week's Buried for an enjoyable example of that kind of stunt film.) Every trick in the director's bag is deployed to get the real-life story up off its feet: swirling, vertiginous camera shots high over the desert floor, pounding dance music, split-screen lapses into psychosis. At one point, Aron even interviews himself for a crazy talk show playing in his head. The result has to be the most thrilling movie ever made about someone who cuts off his own arm. And the more I think about 127 Hours —an adrenaline shot to my palpating audience—the more I realize that it, too, is very Danny Boyle: mainly about the dangers of self-absorption. (Boyle believes in the value of others; he's very forwardly socialist and Catholic.) The movie is a rigorous survival tale, but Aron's way out is an offering of flesh. His salvation comes with memories of distant family and friends. Though sometimes painful to watch, the film is easily the most "movie-ish" thing I've seen at the fest so far: supercharged and confident. A tip of the hat must go to James Franco, who was just about to lose me with his cryptocomic thing. This is an honest performance, requiring plenty of physicality (in its own way, it's as much of a dance as Black Swan ) and deft verbal shifts. I can't imagine it working so well without the goofball.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Toronto Film Festival


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