127 Hours

“I am a rock,” sang Paul Simon, “I am an island.” In climber Aron Ralston’s case, it was a rock that did for his pretence of being an island.Ralston (a supremely convincing James Franco) is the self-involved adrenaline junkie who, in 2003, having told no-one where he was going, spent five days trapped under a boulder in Utah, before freeing himself in extraordinary circumstances. If there’s any spoiler here, it’s not that he gets out—the film is based on the book he wrote about the ordeal—so much as how he managed it. But honestly, we all know what’s coming—from the opening scene, the audience are gripping their chairs in readiness. And for all that the likes of Treat Williams and Amber Tambyln do appear on screen (respectively as Ralston’s father and one of a pair of girls he meets as he ventures into the canyons), there’s no getting around the fact that this is a film about one man’s solitary ordeal. His dawning realization that, yes, stuff like this really can happen to crazy-cool people like him; that perhaps he even had it coming all along.Ignore the hype that surrounds the film’s gruesome money shot; this is a work that meditates powerfully on time and landscape at least as much as it does human suffering. There’s a moving scene (shot, like much of the film, in beautifully tactile close up), just prior to his accident, in which Ralston runs his hands almost intimately over the rock walls; indeed it’s the very same action in a later scene which triggers memories of his father’s embrace. In fact, it’s these later scenes involving visions of other people that are the least interesting. It’s the rock we want to see. The rock and James Franco (who, never an easy feat this, even makes you glad first-choice Cillian Murphy didn’t get the role). Franco gurning as he tries to move the rock; cursing as he fails to move the rock; whooping as he successfully snaps his wrist against the rock. That narrow, one-sided battle says just about all that needs to be said about life on the giant rock we call home.Danny Boyle (surely one of the most consistently interesting directors at work today) might have hit the jackpot with Slumdog Millionaire (whose soundtrack composer A.R. Rahman delivers again here, with a subtle, guitar-led score)—but it’s his earlier, less schmaltzy work that’s referenced in 127 Hours: The claustrophobia and impending doom of the hugely underrated Sunshine, and the haunted emptiness of 28 Days Later. It might just be better than all of them.