Aron Ralston (an impressive James Franco) is a hot wired adventurer never happier than mountain-biking in the American outback or wirelessly abseiling down a crevasse. One mistimed moment leaves him at the bottom of a ravine, his arm wedged behind a boulder. 127 hours later, he realises no one’s coming. And the rock’s not moving. It’s decision time.
Stories of audiences fainting when knife meets bone may be true. But they’re a disservice to Boyle’s achievement. He’s done horror (28 Days Later) – and this isn’t it. In fact, there’s little gore. 127 Hours is about a man coming to terms with a crisis. It’s also crash-course in cinematic fireworks. Aron plays mind games to help himself cope – remembering his family, seeing them on sofa in the canyon. Recalling the two girls he met earlier that day, his fantasy giving him warmth and comfort. Inventing a game-show-host alter ego, he ridicules his own predicament, the folly of a man who didn’t tell anyone where he was going.
Zippy edits, split-screens, heightened sound and image - Boyle unleashes his arsenal. Artful but not arty, 127 Hours is rooted in reality. Take the moment when it happens. Boyle cuts away – no pun intended – and conveys it with a nerve-touching, buzz-saw intensity of sound.
The premise – a man and a rock – is inherently uncinematic. But it was Boyle’s pet project even before Slumdog’s success earned him a green light. Packed with small-scale incident and filmed with Slumdog’s flexible hand-held cameras, it’s an intimate but universal experience. Putting the top on a water bottle. Having a pee. Using anything in your rucksack – including the rucksack - to survive a cold night. All one-handed. It’s a small-scale world indeed. But amplified by big issues. What would you think about, faced with imminent death? What would you regret not saying, not doing? That’s the real focus of 127 Hours.
A vanity project maybe and made with Ralston’s co-operation. But it’s a brave and intelligent movie, shot through with an effervescent and raw humanity.