Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Buried" (2010)

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jose Luis Garcia Perez and Robert Paterson
Written by Chris Sparling
Directed by Rodrigo Cortez
Rated R - Language, disturbing images/themes
Running Time: 94 Minutes

As a person who is mildly claustrophobic (I don't particularly like full elevators or subway cars, but I can generally deal with them, and the occasional anxiety attack in an extremely crowded room) the concept of waking up buried alive in a coffin is not one that I take to lightly.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is an American contractor working as a truck driver in Iraq in 2006.  After his convoy is attacked, he wakes up buried alive inside a coffin.  He has a few supplies with him: a couple of glowsticks, a malfunctioning flashlight, a Zippo lighter, a flask, his anxiety pills, and a Blackberry cellphone.  At first, Paul attempts to make contact with someone who can help him, including a 911 operator, an FBI agent (Erik Palladino), his wife Linda (Samantha Mathis - daughter of Bibi Besch, aka Dr. Carol Marcus), a personnel representative with his employer (Stephen Tobolowski) and a hostage rescue specialist named Brenner (Robert Paterson).

At the same time, Paul is also in contact with his captor Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) who demands that Paul contact the United States Embassy and give him $5 million for Paul's release.  Paul pleads with Jabir to release him, explaining that he's merely a truck driver and that no one will pay $5 million for him, but Jabir is unresponsive.  Paul keeps trying to contact his wife, and is aided by Brenner, but his situation grows slowly worse as his supplies, patience, and air supply dwindle.

"Buried" is a fascinating film from a technical standpoint - literally the entire movie takes place with just Paul inside a box.  Sure, he talks to people on the phone and at one point views a short video of another prisoner, but we never ever see another live human being at any point.  As such, "Buried" could conceivably collapse under its own weight very easily, but it doesn't.

Reynolds is good enough to carry the movie himself, which is great considering that the second component of the success of "Buried" is the script, which is very taut and lean.  There's not a lot of fat in "Buried," and the film barely runs 90 minutes, which doesn't allow the film any room to drag... but also very little margin for error.  The filmmakers introduce a couple of ideas that don't quite seem to work, and feel like obvious attempts to jump-start the film as though they're afraid we're getting bored.  But the problem is that we're not, and so the scene with the snake just feels kind of pointless and out of place.

"Buried" had me on the edge of my seat on several occasions.  It doesn't delve deeply into the politics of the situation in Iraq, which is good; instead it focuses entirely on Paul's deteriorating psychological state as his situation grows more desperate.  Of course, it's impossible to ignore those politics entirely, and the film does have some statements to make, but they are more referenced than focused on.  Still, the situation is revealed entirely through dialogue, and done so in a very excellent manner.  The scene where Paul has an insurance interview with his employer is, at first, darkly comic but slowly becomes more and more disturbing as Paul realizes exactly what's being done to him. 

Paul's growing frustration with the people he's begging for help from is also enthralling, especially the calming British voice of Brenner.  Aside from Reynolds' fine performance and the great script, director Rodrigo Cortez keeps things lively visually, which is a real bonus.  He uses a variety of interesting angles and light sources to keep things fresh.  We never get bored with the look of the inside of the coffin, since Paul has different colored light-sources such as the harsh blue of the Blackberry screen, the yellow from a flickering flashlight, orange from the lighter, green from the glowsticks, and of course, some sequences of simple black. 

As engrossing as it is, though, "Buried" is also infuriating.  I won't give away some of the awful, awful kicks to the gut that this movie gives the audience, just know that they are harsh.  "Buried" is not the easiest film to watch, and many parts of it are flat-out nightmarish.  "Buried" is difficult, but always fascinating and very well-made.

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