I knew before sitting down to watch Buried that I was about to watch a 90-minute movie set entirely inside a wooden coffin housing Hollywood heart-throb, Ryan Reynolds, buried alive in a sandy grave. My two main concerns were whether newcomer director, Rodrigo Cortes, could pull of this very ambitious cinematic feat and if I would be able to sit through what is absolutely my own version of hell. Both fears were well and truly allayed in what is an enthralling, emotionally grueling tour de force.
Reynolds’s character, Paul Conroy, an American truck driver working as a contractor in Iraq, goes to hell and back in his efforts to piece together his whereabouts and figure out a means of escape from this doomed position, with only the contents of his pockets, a mobile phone only two thirds charged but with reception (I know but hey - it works!), a couple of glow sticks and a faulty torch at his disposal. Acutely aware that oxygen is running out, he desperately struggles to make contact with the outside world, calling everyone from his family to his employer, and even an FBI field operative, before eventually making contact with the people that put him in the box in the first place who are demanding a ransom that will feasibly never be paid.
Buried is a very daring film, and Rodrigo Cortes and Ryan Reynolds are nothing short of brilliant in their respective roles. Having starred in the box office hits Definitely Maybe and The Proposal, and with the lead role in the soon to be released and much hyped DC Superhero movie, Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds is ultra-hot property in Hollywood right now. For an actor used to looking every inch the perfect male lead, Reynolds’s decision to star in a film where he's lying confined, prone, in every single shot with the camera frequently and unflatteringly pointed up his nose, is very brave and sure to earn him a slew of nominations come award season. As Conroy, he takes us with him through every breath, heartbeat, thought and fear without becoming histrionic or allowing his performance to spill over into melodrama.
Despite the mesmerising performance of Ryan Reynolds, it is what Cortes does with his camera that makes this movie so good. By the light of the mobile phone, the Zippo lighter and the agonisingly unreliable flashlight, Cortes has us get to know Paul Conroy and empathise, painfully, with his plight.
Clearly committed to keeping this drama within the confines of its minute location but aware of the stress that this proximal closeness must have on the audience, Cortes even gives the viewer some much needed oxygen and spatial respite by using the camera to zoom in, out and around the box within the confined space without exiting the tomb. In what would make even the most experienced director proud, Cortes even staged a grippingly suspenseful action scene inside this coffin with masterful ease.
As with Cortes’ challenge of keeping the drama confined entirely to this utterly Spartan setting, Chris Sparling’s screenplay had the tall order of coming up with things for Reynolds to do in his box for an hour and a half, while incorporating commentary on the role of the US in Iraq and evoking pathos for our entombed and only character. Sparling certainly achieved all of these aims superbly. The viewer is taken through a myriad of emotions from panic and hysteria to anger and resignation without any level of heavy-handedness.
It's hard to find fault with any aspect of a film this simple yet this effective. The film is not easy to watch and if you’re a genuinely claustrophic it might be best to sit this one out. But if you can manage your fear, as I had to, and suspend your critical mind and just enjoy the ride, the movie is nothing short of brilliant.
Buried succeeds as drama, thriller and horror simultaneously, taking the viewer on an emotional roller coaster that tests the nerves and the senses for a good few hours and stays with you long after the credits have rolled.
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