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Movies: 127 Days ****

The word brave hardly seems sufficient to encompass the exploits of Aron Ralston. In 2003, at the age of 27, the devil-may-care outdoorsman was hiking through the Blue John Canyon in Utah when he fell down a crevice and ended up trapped in a narrow space with his right arm pinned against the rock wall by a very large boulder. Try as he might he could not shift it, and after spending five days with little food and water, he arrived at a solution to his problem that most of us wouldn't contemplate.

It is this stark but dramatically slight premise that Danny Boyle tackles in 127 Days, and it's to his and star James Franco's credit that, even though I knew what was going to happen, the film never really dragged.

One weekend in April 2003, Aron Ralston (Franco) takes off for Utah's canyon country in his jeep, abandons that, cycles to the edge of the John Blue Canyon, and embarks on an arduous hike. A lover of solitude and inaccessible places, Ralston is filled with the hubris of youth and imagined no natural challenge was too great for him.

On the morning of his accident, he runs into two girls and enjoys a pleasant swim with them in a subterranean pool before waving farewell. As he's leaving they invite him to a party they're giving the following night. Aron says he'll be there, but little does he know he'll be otherwise detained.

127 Days reminds one inescapably of Touching the Void, and like that outstanding documentary, Danny Boyle's film turns a nightmarish predicament into a study of human nature and the resources individuals mine in extreme circumstances.

After the boulder traps and crushes his right arm, Ralston's reactions are predictably human -- first there's disbelief, then rage, a frenzied attempt to defy the reality of the situation, and, finally, a kind of acceptance. Where Ralston differs from most of us, however, is in his ultimate refusal to lie down and die.

James Franco, a charming actor all too often consigned to supporting turns, is absolutely outstanding in a lonely leading role. His Ralston, like the film, gets caught between harsh reality and reassuring fantasy, and uses his video camera as a kind of diary. Incredibly, he is not prone to self-pity, and instead of cursing his luck acknowledges his part in his predicament.

Boyle brings his trademark frenetic editing to bear on what might have been a static, turgid picture. And if he's a little too obvious at times in terms of his themes, at least he has something to say in the first place.

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