Given the extremity of the situation, there were really only two ways to make a movie from the real-life ordeal of Aron Ralston, the avid mountain climber who in 2003 spent five days trapped in a crevasse with his right arm pinned beneath a gigantic boulder. One option would have been to lock the camera down, so that the audience becomes as agonizingly trapped as the hero; only trouble is, that hardcore version of 127 Hours would likely have grossed $127. So director Danny Boyle, fresh off his Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, instead goes the opposite route, employing his patented hyperactivity—fast cuts, split-screens, manic zooms—in a context in which such visual aggression makes no sense whatsoever. And by golly, it kind of works.
Granted, it helps that Boyle has a terrific anchor in James Franco, who perfectly captures the weirdly solipsistic bravado of a certain kind of jock mentality early on, then channels that energy into a riveting solo performance once Ralston gets trapped. If you followed the story at the time, you already know that you’re in for a gruesome ride at the climax; if not, be advised that said climax, while not gratuitously graphic, will definitely upset the squeamish. But it’s to the movie’s credit that it shows you, step by locked-down step, how Ralston arrived at that unthinkable decision, so that a moment usually found only in slasher flicks plays here as an odd form of liberation, emotional as well as physical. Plus, you know, ouch.