In 2002’s Phone Booth, audiences were riveted while watching Colin Farrell stuck in a (you guessed it) phone booth for 90 minutes. 2010’s Buried uses the similar formula of putting a mainstream actor with sex appeal (Ryan Reynolds) front and center for the entire movie. This “bottle episode” style takes the main actor to task, stretching their dramatic range and testing the stamina of their character. While Reynolds outperforms Farrell in Buried, the film succeeds on a number of other levels. Hit the jump to see my review.
Before the film even gets started, the logo for Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried spins onto the screen. It is purposefully reminiscent of the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo. I took that self-comparison as a direct challenge and viewed the movie more critically from that point on. (Also, when a movie introduces every single person behind the scenes in the opening credits, it makes me feel like they don’t expect you to make it through to the end of the film. But I digress.)
Buried starts just like the premise suggests, with Ryan Reynolds buried alive in a coffin. We soon learn that he is Paul Conroy, an American civilian truck driver working for a company called CRT. He was part of a convoy of other drivers delivering supplies in Iraq. The convoy was attacked, the other drivers were shot and the next thing he knows, Conroy wakes up buried in a box with nothing but his Zippo lighter and a cellphone that has its display set to Arabic.
Buried is broken up evenly into three, half-hour acts. The first act encompasses Conroy searching his confined area for any hint of escape, calling every number he can think of for help and generally freaking out from anxiety attacks. While I found Reynolds performance to be overdramatic and almost comedic during his freakouts, once he calmed down he was much more engaging. Reynolds is known for his sharp wit, which he keeps even in his claustrophobic state when dealing with ineffectual customer service operators and bureaucratic middle men. All the while, his phone’s battery is dying and he keeps getting his wife’s voicemail. The first act ends with a conversation with the man who buried him, demanding a $5 million ransom.
The second act really ratchets up the tension after all the details of Conroy’s predicament have been established. While the State Department refuses to pay his ransom, they connect Conroy to Dan Brenner, a man in Iraq who deals with just these sort of situations. Though he tries to keep Conroy calm, the hostage taker sends Conroy a video of another hostage, Pamela Lutti and threatens to kill her. Conroy acquiesces and films his own hostage video using the dying cellphone.
If act two had me on the edge of my seat, then act three nearly threw me off of it. Conroy wakes up with a cobra slithering out of his clothes. (Even Indiana Jones had trouble with snakes and he was never trapped in a coffin with one.) Conroy deals with it, though his situation worsens as the walls of the coffin begin to give way to the pressure of the sand and the bombing run of the F-16s overhead. The last few minutes of Buried really toy with your emotions, dragging Conroy back and forth between hope and despair more times than I can count. I’ll leave it up to you to watch how it all ends up.
Buried, at 95 minutes run-time, is as lean as its star, Ryan Reynolds. There is literally a man trapped in a box with only a few tools and his wits. And for this movie, Reynolds’ performance was all the complexity it needed to succeed. Lionsgate, known for the SAW series, is no stranger to on-screen brutality, though Buried has only a few small doses of it. A severed finger and a headshot to one of the hostages bring us back to reality even as Reynolds one-liners lighten the severity of Conroy’s situation.
What I found impressive with Buried was the fact that even though it was filmed entirely in a wooden crate, the camera was always moving and its angles were rarely repeated. Though at times this took away from the claustrophobic feel of the film, other shots were pure genius. One scene had Reynolds searching the length of his coffin in which the camera followed his gaze, actually flipped in scene and came back. Another showed Reynolds buried impossibly deep with the wooden slat walls extending to unscalable heights. It was this particular scene that made me think, “Hitchcock.”
Another interesting facet was the lighting scheme in Buried. It changes frequently enough to keep it interesting: flickering orange flames from the Zippo or the ignited whiskey, the eerie green of the glow sticks, the soft cobalt blue of the cellphone screen and the yellow and red filtered light of the malfunctioning flashlight. All in all, Buried has enough imaginative and artistic technical achievements to match the simple, yet devastating plot and a fantastic performance by Ryan Reynolds.
“Unearthing Buried” The making of Buried. Random shots of behind-the-scenes footage with some comments by the cast and crew taken over the 17 days it was filmed in. Worth seeing for the various coffin styles and creative camera work used to film Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for 90 minutes. There is also the ingenious way they developed for Reynolds to be able to interact with the actors playing the various voices on his phone, since obviously they couldn’t be in the studio/coffin with him. Check out a clip here.
Also available in the extras are the teaser and original trailers for the film.