On DVD: Buried

Give Rodrigo Cortés credit: movie aside, few people could stand the thought of 90 minutes in a box with Ryan Reynolds. Not to jab at Reynolds’ talent, but most of his roles wear thin during the course of a movie and you can actually empathize with Paul Conroy. A Michigan- based truck driver, he’s on a routine delivery in Iraq when he gets kidnapped by some insurgents and buried in a wooden coffin with seemingly nothing but a cellphone and a lighter. We don’t get to see the kidnapping part, just the coffin, which makes for the film’s challenge: make lots with little.

Good thing for the cellphone, as there’s no story without it. Buried not too far underground so that he can get a signal and communicate with his captor as well as anyone else he chooses, much of the conflict scoots by on our imagining of the voice on the other end; it’s our chance to escape the claustrophobia of the film.

Personally, a shorter film with a bit more claustrophobia would have been more effective. Cortés makes us grow just as restless and impatient as Conroy, who conveniently has anxiety issues permitting outbursts of swearing to provide some needed noise, but “Buried” loses the effectiveness of its premise a bit with some of the social commentary of Chris Sparling’s script.

The film would have escaped as an effective mood piece with cries of a acclaim for Cortés had it focused solely on a guy in a box trying to save his life. Instead, Sparling dips us in and out of his criticism of the system and how its image to millions ranks higher than saving one individual life. A valid argument all things considered, but a bit counteracting to the purposes of “Buried” in terms of thrills.

Cortés scores points visually and in terms of suspense. Each light-emitting item in the coffin creates a different “color” and as such it affords him some creative wiggle-room to more directly influence audience reaction through lighting. On a couple occasions he pulls away from Reynolds and breaks the illusion of the audience being right there in the box with him, presumably allowing us to get some much-needed air, but his fear of torturing the audience into an irritable state gets the best of him.

Not a stretch here to say that Conroy lands as probably the best performance of Reynolds’ career. He makes a few snarky comments here and there lest we forget he’s the guy in the box, but as he pleads with voices on the other end to pick up the phone, come save him, or stop being a bleeping idiot, he’s most importantly relinquishing control. Reynolds rarely plays characters who don’t dominate the scene or desire being the center of attention. Amusing because Paul Conroy is that kind of character exactly, just in a more literal way. As such, kudos to Reynolds for not completely milking that attention for egotistical purposes. We could have done with half as many outbursts and phone calls that end in hyperventilation (seriously, how much air is in that box?), but never once do we dispose of our sympathy for Paul and his situation.

That’s key, because “Buried” excites ’til the very end. Rarely does a film build up as much doubt about the ending and legitimate confusion about whether or not Paul will suffocate or be saved. While the social commentary plays into that answer and costs “Buried” some points in terms of being a terrific thriller, Cortés has created an incomparable ride that had so much potential to go wrong but swerves artfully around most of it.

3.5/5 Stars

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
Written by Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds


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