There's no terribly good reason why I never sent in this short text about 127 Hours, which was originally intended for the Daily Notebook. I wrote it in December of 2010 and intended to significantly expand it later, but never wrote another draft.
A thought comes together about a film seen several weeks ago: if Danny Boyle didn't think that a man pinned under a rock was very interesting, he shouldn't have made a movie about it. Directors make problems for themselves (one definition of directing: the fabrication of obstacles), and the one Boyle keeps trying to solve in 127 Hours is how to make the Aron Ralston story "exciting" when it's obvious that it's a little too uneventful for his skittish brain. Somewhere in there is the buzzing germ of a good 65-minute movie, but it has been drowned in overbearing sticky sap, as though Boyle can't bear the indemnity of actually having made a movie that was only about a man trapped under a rock (which is, frankly, a pretty good plot) and must instead cheat, cheat, cheat at every available opportunity. With his arm crushed between a canyon wall and a boulder, James Franco escapes the dusty reality of his situation and re-experiences his life as a block of bad MTV videos circa 1996 while thinking of name-brand items (we all know the cinema's a marketplace, but—seriously—has there been another movie in recent years so goddamn molded up with product placements?). Dream sequence upon dream sequence harden into impenetrable authorial amber, until Franco's performance and the boulder are barely visible.
Boyle's big dumb artwork springs from a mindset that sees form as an escape from content, plot as the characters' escape from a situation (see: every one of his films) and cinema itself as an escape from reality, as opposed to a burrowing-in. At the very least, he should be commended on his nearly-impermeable consistency. His ugly, affable collage-style sometimes extends into head-slappingly literal metaphoric activities: no one is more prone to having his characters run away, or is, admittedly, better at directing scenes of people running (127 Hours being the exception: Franco’s final limp jog combines the hammy sprints of 28 Days Later with a pronounced nostalgia for the Surge commercials of yesteryear).
Like a lot of smart people, Boyle has convinced himself that movies really are an escape, instead of merely appearing / pretending to be (the most escapist fare tends to also serve as a nightmare ride into the subconscious insecurities and prejudices of the audience for which it offers “escape”). The best stretches in his body of work remain Sunshine (up until the ending) and the first half-hour of The Beach; that both examples come from the earlier parts of the films speaks of another Boyle problem: his inability to end a movie. A cinema of perpetual escape eventually collapses in on itself, leaving only a dull, stylish void.