The film opens with Ralston setting off on his fateful trip without, importantly, telling anyone where he's going. We see him as the reckless, brash guy who takes shortcuts to cut off time from "what the guidebook says." Early into his excursion, he meets two fellow backpackers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, stiff and stepping on pretty much every line), who I suppose are there to be his final connection to the outside world. The fun they have furthers the extremely breezy tone of the beginning, which is jarred completely when, a few minutes after they part, Ralston slips and plummets.
As you might expect, Boyle is pretty focused, showing Ralston trying to chip at the rock with his low-grade knockoff multi-tool (as the prologue shows, he's left his Swiss Army Knife at home). That is, for maybe a good 30 seconds. Then, he breaks away, enough times that one could argue that more time is spent outside of Ralston's fix than in. Boyle compromises, when he should be uncompromising. The method works in a way: it shows us visually what he's thinking, and offers (if extremely confusing and half-cooked) exposition. (To it's detriment, it also overloads on massively sentimental imagery.) In my opinion, if it had really wanted to be effective, it would have viewed Ralston as someone who would have found him would have viewed him: as a man who's fighting against deterioration, mental and physical. The scene where he imagines that he's on a talk show could have been more interesting if it had not contained itself (i.e. added the applause in the background).
James Franco is the actor who takes on Ralston, and he does well. If there was an actor who could have played this part better, Franco makes us forget. (In a more intensive version of this film, he may still have been the go-to guy, though in large doses I feel he could be a little annoying, meaning that Boyle's guerrilla editing regiment maybe benefited Franco). However, the real character of Ralston is underexposed. Whether that's the fault of Boyle or Franco is unclear, but what is certain is that the film does not go far enough in its look at the man.
Of course, since this is a Boyle film, there is technical show-offing which (as they say) gets your adrenaline pumping. But this is not the film for it. This is the film where you sacrifice being bravura for being getting in touch with your subject. In this way, Boyle is not a mature filmmaker. He has all the control in the world when it comes to the small aspects of his mise-en-scene (if you can even grant that level of sophistication to his direction), but it doesn't occur to him that the right idea may be to switch the game-plan altogether. C+