Friday, January 28, 2011
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Ivana Mino
Running Time: 94 min.
★★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
Of the three single location thrillers released in 2010, Buried had the toughest task ahead of it. Unlike something like Frozen and even 127 Hours, literally every second of the action takes place in one claustrophobic setting. It's 94 minutes of a man buried alive in a coffin with a Zippo and a BlackBerry. And those 94 enthralling minutes go by in a flash. Compared to the those other two films, its screenplay cheats the least and as a result it extracts the most out of its tight concept. After viewing a trailer I thought gave away too much information, my biggest concern was that there would be an unnecessary focus on how the character got into the predicament rather the crisis itself, turning this into a criminal procedural that happens to take place underground. But that's not what we get at all. We know just as much as we need to and there's just the right mix of thriller and survival story, capped off with a cruel, nihilistic twist that's actually rather brave for this kind of movie. It's a compelling human drama, but more impressively stands as the type of intelligent, resourceful thriller that would have made Hitchcock proud.
American truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes to find himself buried alive inside a wooden coffin in Iraq held for ransom after his convoy is attacked by terrorists. A cell phone with a dying battery and a weak signal is his only connection to the outside world and it's through his conversations with state officials and government buerauocrats we learn more details of Paul's history and what's needed to rescue him. With sand leaking through the coffin and a quickly depleting oxygen supply and an unexpected reptilian visitor it's a race against time made that much more frustrating by the voices on the other end of the phone (the most memorable provided by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky). They all have agendas of some sort, which may not necessarily involve locating and rescuing him. No flashbacks or dream sequences here. Director Rodrigo Cortes to find other more inventive ways to tell the story through lighting, camera angles and sound effects, creating an almost unbearably suspenseful atmosphere and making it feel much more cinematic than the restrictive nature of the setting should allow. He brings us right into that coffin with Paul as we root for his survival and feel the frustration at his inability to control his own fate.
Any doubts as to Ryan Reynolds' dramatic abilities are put to rest here as he passes what would be the ultimate test for any actor. Shot in extreme close-up the entire time there's no escaping the fact that this project's success is directly proportional to the believability of his performance. With no one else to bounce off of he must alone convey the emotional turmoil of this desperate, resourceful victim clinging to anything he can to survive. It's probably the best work of his career and it's easy to imagine a lesser actor lacking the ability to hold our interest or being able to carry this challenging premise past the finish line without it running out of steam. At one point there's a conversation Paul has with someone on the other line that's frighteningly realistic in its hopelessness, hitting almost too close to home. Watching, you'll ask yourself, "It all comes down to THIS?" But it does. Without giving too much away, it's an unexpectedly bold and ambitious statement from a film this small and Reynolds does a great job selling it.
Right from its opening, drenched in total darkness for nearly a minute, followed by an effective Saul Bass-inspired credits sequence, it's clear Cortes knew how huge an undertaking this was and came to play. With all the phone calls this could have gotten easily gotten repetitive with the questions surrounding Paul's predicament sucking the experience dry, but ironically not since Phone Booth has a film made as creative a use of a single location to create suspense. It's proof that sometimes the simplest plots can be the best as long as they're visually arresting and focused and Reynold's grueling performance deserves much of the credit for holding it all together. Buried won't be confused for a life-affirming survival tale with exotic locales, but as a thriller it surpasses all expectations of its very promising premise.