with a smile on his face and makes friends easily. Anticipating his demise, his major regrets are not promptly returning his mother’s phone calls and once having what seems like a mutual breakup with a girlfriend. There isn’t exactly high drama to mine there.
Visually, there’s more to take in than one would expect. Even though the story takes place almost entirely in that narrow canyon, the film packs a visceral punch. Boyle catapulted into the big time with 1996’s Trainspotting, which established exuberant energy and relentless stimuli as his calling card. He bookends 127 Hours with joyful shots of large crowds around the globe, showcasing the world that Ralston disappears from and drawing contrast to the isolation in which Ralston finds himself. Boyle also gives Ralston flashbacks and hallucinations, incorporates a visual pun in the form of ScoobyDoo (don’t ask), and makes use of the camcorder Ralston has with him to provide changes in the film’s look and approach.
And yet, all of this dressing also undermines the material. We never quite feel like we’re trapped in the canyon with our protagonist, because Boyle keeps reminding us that we’re not. It’s a Catch-22: we’re never unaware that we’re watching a movie, but if that weren’t the case, then the movie would be unbearable to watch. Boyle has a tendency toward blatant manipulation, and it sometimes comes across as if he doesn’t trust his own story. For example, Ralston’s hike back to safety should have been a triumphant moment without need of added flair, but Boyle boosts the scene with a loud and almost comically rousing piece of music. To his credit, the director handles the amputation scene tastefully, showing enough that you’ll cringe without actually showing the grisly act itself.
Boyle’s instincts as a writer — he adapted his script from Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, along with co-writer Simon Beaufoy — serve him better. While Boyle fails to invoke the horror of the predicament, he succeeds in conveying the unusual circumstance of being in the prime of your life and having five days to