After the hustle and bustle of Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire, I wasn't sure if perhaps director Danny Boyle had gone too far in the other direction for his next movie. Hiker Aron Ralston's autobiography, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, was about one guy with his arm stuck in between a boulder and a canyon wall in the middle of nowhere, and I wasn't sure how anyone could make that into something exciting and interesting. I shouldn't have worried, because Boyle's direction and Franco's quirky performance have combined to make one of the most engaging and, in fact, fun movies of Boyle's career, despite the occasional bleakness of the subject matter. Heck, there are even a couple of spots where you forget that the guy is going to survive the ordeal to write a book about it.
The movie starts out by showing you footage from some of the most populous places on earth, with bustling throngs of people, cars, bicycles, etc. As it intercuts with shots of Ralston getting ready for his trip -- and forgetting to pack his Swiss Army Knife -- you can't help but laugh in anticipation of what's to come. The guy is a serious hiker, driving out to a national park in the middle of the night and sleeping in his car so he can get an early start the next morning. But he has a sense of humor about it, taking pictures of his spills and recording his progress on a video camera. When he meets two other, less serious hikers (Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara), you can see that they find him intense, not that there's anything wrong with that, and they invite him to a party. A few hours later, he's pinned under a rock. As the rock slid home, I really felt like the movie was going to lock up like a tomb, and no fun would ever get out again.
But the party isn't over, and we get to watch Ralston slowly lose his marbles as he rations food and water, records updates on his camera and watches the footage he shot of the two girls. Cleverly, what is real and what is imagined starts to blur together, and Boyle shoots Ralston drinking tiny amounts of water from inside the bottle, making it more like a trip to Splash Mountain. Ralston flashes back to moments in his life when he spent time outdoors with his father (Treat Williams). He turns self-mockery of his predicament into a one-man talk show and thinks about the girl that got away -- his fault -- and regrets dodging calls from his mother. Watching the desperation build up and the realization set in that he has to live is exciting, but at the same time, you're sad to leave the little home Boyle has made for Franco in that ravine.
I included it on my list of movies that made men cry for the climactic scene and epilogue, a solid 15-20 minutes, but more sensitive souls might start earlier, because it's a powerful story, and Franco underplays the character beautifully. I recommend repeat viewings, although the squeamish are gonna have to close their eyes for a good stretch at one point. I hate for anyone to miss a minute of the film, though, so maybe build up your tolerance beforehand by watching someone else sever their arm. You'll thank me later.
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