You decide to take a weekend getaway. You don’t tell anyone where you are going. You go rock climbing. You have a little fall. Your arm gets stuck. You have limited water and food and a blunt penknife. What would you do? This is the question that burns on the brain once you’ve watched Danny Boyle’s take on the true tale of one man’s incredible bid for survival. It certainly is a unique story that would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. The story of Aron Ralston is one that installs inspiration in the strength of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle, no matter what the costs. Boyle, following up his Oscar success of Slumdog Millionaire, has given himself the hard task of making a movie with essentially one character in one location. No spectacular action sequences, just one man, and a rock. 

Ralston was a bit of an idiot. I’m just going to put that out there to start with. I understand he’s an adrenalin junky, but he could have least of taken a phone with him. He seems determined to live a detached lifestyle, ignoring phone calls from his family and never staying at home for too long. It’s a lifestyle choice which ultimately proves to be the wrong one once he takes off for the weekend. But what he more than makes up for his lack of common sense with his very sharp instinctual thinking in moments where it calls for it most. And he certainly has many of those moments when he falls into the canyon.

This must have been a hard film to sell, the Oscar probably helping Boyle a great deal in getting this movie made. How exactly do you make a feature-length movie in which your main protagonist is effectively stuck for the whole duration? Boyle and fellow screenwriter Simon Beaufoy have padded the story out, having a fun opening in which Ralston takes two girls on a tour through the canyon. Once the rock falls, that iswhen the movie really find itself. It’ s a masterwork of editing, complementing the frantic and tightly framed camerawork that Boyle adopts. There are moments of delirium and flashbacks which add substance to the proceedings and detail to what exactly Ralston was thinking at the time. It’s a quickly paced movie, excitement being drawn from the restricted setting and scenario and the flashbacks and hallucinations give the film some funny, touching and disturbing moments as Ralston’s options become fewer and fewer.

When you make a film like this you need to have a strong performer to carry it. He also needs to be incredibly likeable so that you actually want him to make it out of the tricky situation. Boyle certainly found the right actor to inhabit this role in James Franco. Franco has proven to be a very good supporting actor, he was one of the best things about the Spiderman trilogy and Pineapple Express. Here he really gets to flex his acting muscles, ironic really for a film in which he barely moves for most of the running time. He gives the role and the film a real wave of energy, from the opening bike ride to the moments when he’s trapped (the Daytime chat show interview he gives himself is a great scene in terms of performance and editing). The film rides on his charisma, so that even when it veers too much into strange delirium you can still trust Franco to keep things grounded in reality.

The main draw in for most people with this movie, I believe, is to see how exactly they show the more gruesome element of the story, in which Ralston has to take part in a little DIY amputation. The frame remains very tight, showing a great deal of blood, but it’s not in what the camera shows that makes the scene a tough watch, it is in the excellent sound design. That’s where the most cringe-worthy elements derive from. It wasn’t quite as impactful, as I was expecting it to be the film’s payoff. The pay off that the film goes for is a sense of liberation once he is out and safe. This is where the film was least effective for me. I got the feeling that I was supposed to feel more liberated than I actually was by the end of the movie, but just wasn’t really enlightened by the end of it. It seems once he’s out of the canyon, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go. It’s unfortunate that a film with such a subject manner falls a bit flat by the end of the experience.

I think Boyle’s main intention with this movie was to the make the moments of being trapped in the canyon as exhilarating, tense and entertaining as he possibly could. And I believe he’s successfully done this, extremely well. All the choices he’s made, from casting, set design and music (some excellent song choices here, some with great juxtaposition like Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’) work effectively for the main duration of the movie. Everything does seem to run out of steam by the end of it, it could also be partly due to fact you know how this is going to end from the start. It was for this reason, I believe, that the similarly themed movie, Kevin McDonald’s Touching the Void, chose to go down the documentary route, along with the drama element. 127 Hours works much better though as a work of drama, giving Franco the chance to show some great acting talent and allowing Boyle to be very inventive in his presentation of being trapped and losing your mind. And together, Franco and Boyle have delivered a surprisingly entertaining and creativemovie out of difficult material. And don’t worry, it only runs for an hour and half. 

4/5- It loses momentum near the end, but what comes before it is a tense, entertaining and very inventive thrill-ride, with sharp direction from Danny Boyle and a career-best performance from James Franco.