Danny Boyle brings his visceral, kinetic visual style to a seemingly unlikely story. 127 Hours concerns the real life ordeal of Aron Ralston, the young hiker who escaped certain death by amputating his own arm after being pinned by a boulder in a secluded Utah canyon. A life-time of desert films has lead to expectations of slow, contemplative movement and long shots of harsh, unyielding nature. As such I was first put off by Boyle's hyperactive camera and the constant shuffling of visual motifs. But it is in fact perfectly in keeping with Aron's amped, go for broke, X-Gamer personality. The film slows down just long enough to contemplate how Aron's adrenalized lone-wolf attitude may have impacted the circumstances he finds himself in. On screen for virtually all of the film's 90 minutes, James Franco's performance is never less than compelling. Perceptive in ways not immediately apparent and never showy despite the role's inherent 'Oscar Bait' attributes, it's impossible to picture the film without him.
Darren Aronofsky is back in the land of the loopy after the comparative neo-realism of The Wrestler. Perhaps not loopy enough. For while Black Swan has its share of striking imagery as well as some exhilarating dance sequences, it ultimately suffers from too many ‘theatrical’ clichés and a story that tries too hard to say too little. Nina (played gamely by Natalie Portman) has landed the lead role in Swan Lake, but her director (Vincent Cassel) has doubts about her ability to convey the necessary passion to embody the role of the Black Swan. Into this tenuous relationship walks Lily (Mila Kunis), a vibrant young dancer who may have what it takes to steal the role away. What follows is all manner of melodrama as Nina struggles with her insecurities and tries to summon the requisite intensity. But all this sturm and drang ultimately seems nothing more than an extended metaphor for the Tortured Artist. Add to that the Frigid Perfectionist, Passionate Ingénue, Lascivious Director and Domineering Stage Mother and you’ve got a film of tired types desperately trying to spin something new out of a story we’ve heard many times before.