Direct By: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
On my way to check out Buried, I got caught in a downpour. I arrive drenched and undeniably uncomfortable, but the moment the film started, I immediately forgot about the small puddle in my shoes and the damp jeans clinging to my legs; all I could think about was how Paul Conroy’s situation was monumentally worse. You know how you remind yourself that somebody else out there has it worse, when you have to cope with less than ideal circumstances? From now, I’ll think of poor Paul.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Paul, a man who wakes up buried in a coffin. That’s all we know for the first few minutes of the film during which a pitch-black screen is consumed by desperate moans and heavy breathing. It isn’t until Paul locates a Zippo and eventually a cell phone that some light is shed on his situation.
Through desperate phone calls to useless operators, we learn Paul is employed by the company CRT as a truck driver assigned to deliver supplies to people in need in Iraq. When his convoy was ambushed, he watched his friends murdered until he was knocked unconscious. We meet Paul when he finally comes to, trapped in this underground nightmare. With every outgoing call comes more frustration and with every incoming one detailing the demands of his captor, more terror.
As the oxygen and phone battery dwindles, Paul struggles to maintain his sanity while he does whatever he can to ensure his survival.
The basic premise of Buried is sheer genius. An entire film not only dedicated to a character in a single location, but dedicated to one confined to a disturbingly minimal one at that. It’s quite clear that if the film relied on that concept alone, the novelty would quickly wear off, however, writer Chris Sparling doesn’t let this scenario become even the slightest bit monotonous. Paul is trapped in a coffin, he finds a cell phone and a lighter, he gets in touch with an FBI detective, his captor calls; the plot thickens every minute and just about every development is something completely unexpected.
Like Sparling, director Rodrigo Cortés finds himself in a similar position. Regardless of how interesting Sparling’s work is, it’s quite easy to resort to repetitive techniques and misrepresent the severity of the situation. But each moment of Buried feels just as fresh as if Sparling had uprooted his lead and planted him in an entirely different location and, oddly enough, even as the material has ample room to breathe, the audience still feels just as confined and uncomfortable as Paul.
Cinematographer Eduard Grau seemingly knew exactly how to approach the circumstances. Rather than clutter the screen with cheap tricks in an attempt to stir some action, he sticks with interesting angels and subtle zooms. There’s one moment during which he opts for an overhead shot followed by a series of quick pushes that feel too jarring, but otherwise, Grau provides an all-encompassing view of the environment while keeping his shots tight enough that the sense of confinement only intensifies. Put Grau’s work to the tune of Victor Reyes’ stirring orchestral music and you end up with a film that exemplifies the utmost intensity.
And, of course, this one-man show wouldn’t have been nearly as successful if it weren’t for its star. Reynolds is outstanding. He delivers such an incredible amount of honest emotion he makes you feel what his character is going through. In true Reynolds fashion, his character does have a sense of humor, but after each giggle comes an even stronger sadness for Paul’s predicament. It’s amusing to hear him banter with the typical obnoxious operator and particularly hilarious when he’s chatting with a standoffish friend of his wife’s, but once the jokes fade, Paul’s situation becomes even more dire. Making matters even more grim are Reynolds’s emotional outbursts. Paul suffers from a touch of anxiety, but just about anyone would throw a tantrum if they woke up helpless in a coffin. Buried does have a few plot discrepancies – his rather good cell phone service, his seemingly endless supply of oxygen and some inappropriately humorous dialogue from Paul’s captor – but Reynolds manages to grab such a commanding hold on your attention, all incongruities go unnoticed, for the only thing that matters is Paul’s fight to live.
At a glance, Buried may appear to be a mere gimmick, but you won’t find a single device in this film. Rather than toss in random flashbacks, rely on fancy editing techniques, go with over-the-top cinematography or force Reynolds to drown the audience in waterworks, every aspect of this film is somewhat restrained and rather than deliver limited results, it’s that moderation that makes the film’s impact even more profound. It’s a good thing I brought a fancier pen to this film; had I had a cheap plastic one in my hand, the suspense of Buried might have caused me to snap it in half.
By Perri Nemiroff