Directed by Rodrigo Cortes
Starring Ryan Reynolds
Written by Chris Sparling
The first thing one thinks when seeing the first light in the movie Buried (several minutes into the film) is:
“Now that you that you know you are in a box with limited air, for God sakes turn off that oxygen wasting lighter.”
Several minutes later, he has used the lighter many times, one forces themselves to suspend disbelief. We’re here for 94 minutes, according to the box, so we just have to go with it. Suspending that disbelief is made easier by Ryan Reynolds. Pretty much a wiseass for most of his movie career, he then became an action movie wiseass, then a romantic movie-not such a wiseass…and now this. Buried in a shallow grave (or so it’s believed due to the availability of a cell phone signal), coming to the realization that he is there for a reason, and that reason is not about to let him go gently into that good night.
Finding a cell phone, a flask of whiskey and an artificial source of light, Reynold’s Conroy works furiously to find someone, anyone to get his buried self back to the surface. This is not real easy. He runs the gamut from friends, family, his employers (he was stripped of his safety phone number by the same persons that put him here), the FBI and State Department. Each give him only enough help to keep his hopes up, and he moves on.
Paul Conroy is a U.S. truck driver working in Iraq in the midst of the war. Slowly waking through his haze, he realizes that his convoy was attacked and many of his fellow drivers have been murdered and he somehow was spared. Perhaps spared is the wrong word, for while his co-workers’ fates have already been determined, he has awoken to an uncertain and somehow more cruel fate. His captors call and presented him with a slim chance to save his own life, provided he do certain things. He’s now forced to make split-second decisions, working with his wits and the doors that open ever so slightly in the calls made and received.
The momentum created in this confined space is perpetuated within the strength of Reynolds’ acting and Cortes direction. It’s amazing that so many angles could be created in such a small area. Reynold’s gift of natural enthusiasm is put to the test here. This movie would not have worked so well if, say, Nicolas Cage were in there. It’s a credit to his ability to show so much of his thought process through his expressions and snippets of words indicating fleeting thoughts. Some deliberation, some panic and a whole bunch of perspiration is a tough thing to carry out, day after day, scene after scene. He brings the intensity so effectively, the viewer feels confined with him.
To explain much more might steal from the intensity, so let’s just leave it to that suspension of disbelief part. Once getting past the lighter / oxygen issue, the attention is so wrapped around the moment to moment events. Up until the last call from the HR Rep from his company, it is like a bubble waiting to be popped.
The events of that call (voiced on the other side by Stephen “Bing!” Tobolowsky) stretch the believability to the breaking point. The desired effect, my guess, is a somewhat political. Making a political point is fine, but making a believable movie should be paramount. Funny how one can be willing to imagine that a steady supply of air could make it into that small box. As soon as an easy target (big corporate America) is presented in such a ham-handed way as a ruthless, vile bully on a recorded line while someone’s life is in the balance, all the air leaves the box, metaphorically speaking. Working much too hard to present a penny-pinching Scrooge, an opportunity is lost to present a more universal truth: a man’s pending doom is not worth saving the insurance money. It’s more about image, really. Corporate America may have the callous heart of Dick Cheney, but they have the affable front face of Bill Clinton.
They would not have bothered with that last call to Conroy. Instead, they would have concentrated on giving a big show of support for his family. The goal is not to save the money paid out to Paul Conroy or his family. The Iraq war showed that the lives of persons like Conroy and our military are not worth the reasons the U.S. Government has to make them fight and suffer for it.
All this distracts from the incredible work of Reynolds and Cortes. The amount of courage it took to never leave the coffin for the length of the movie is inestimable. While the writing’s Achilles heel affects the film, each deserved nominations for their work. One could, perhaps fault Cortes for not leaving out the least believable aspects of the script, but that is a quibble. This a pretty astounding feat.
The film is impossible to turn from for the first viewing. Repeat viewings seem unlikely. Tough to watch a man in a box twice, just to close in on nuance.
(***1/2 out of *****)