“Your ransom video already has 47 thousand hits on YouTube”
NOTE: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS
Last year during the film festival season, Buried was generating a lot of buzz. I hadn’t heard about it until I was on my vacation in the UK with my best friend and picked up a copy of Total Film Magazine where there was a double feature article and interview with star Ryan Reynolds (about Buried and The Green Lantern). My interest was immediately peaked. I think I’d sat through maybe half of Van Wilder, but enjoyed Reynolds immensely as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity, and he took a dark turn in the remake of The Amityville Horror. Most of the country, arguably even the international community as well, doesn’t regard him highly. This film is all that’s needed to prove them wrong. I’ve never seen Reynolds put on a more intense, multi-emotional invoking performance as he has in Buried.
The demands placed on Reynolds in this role were extreme. He was called on to go from anger, to hope, to despair, to resigned all within a single scene. It’s not that I ever doubted he had it in him, there were always hints of it under the surface in other roles, even the comedic ones (and it takes a lot of talent to have comedic timing and understand it), but I had high expectations here and Reynolds surpassed them.
The premise of the movie is simple, and to some, may sound boring. Paul Conroy (Reynolds) is a U.S. contractor, a trucker, working in Iraq. His coworkers and friends are killed in an ambush attack on his convoy, while he’s kidnapped and buried in a coffin with few supplies: a cell phone, Zippo lighter, glow sticks, a flask of water, and some pencils. A snake finds its way in as well, so that was a rather creepy moment. It’s not a premise that sounds intense, does it? But you’d be wrong. I’ve been waiting since September 2010 to watch this, and after watching it tonight, it is one that I do not regret buying, or experiencing. This isn’t a movie that you just watch. It’s shot in such a way that you experience it, even if you’re not quite aware of it at first. If you’re claustrophobic, eventually you’ll start to feel that creeping in, so if you have to take steps to keep that under control while watching, keep that in mind, if you want to see the movie.
The one set piece films haven’t always worked. There is not a single shot that is not in the coffin. If there had been, even if it had been to show the phone ringing at his home in Michigan and the answering machine picking up, or a shot of the guy who was talking him through the process of finding him and trying to keep him calm, it would have detracted from the movie, taking away from its atmosphere, effectiveness, its tone. It wouldn’t have made the film the impactful piece of film making art that it is.
Another thing that makes the film work is Paul’s dialogue. Maybe not so much the dialogue of the other characters (their voices are all you hear, you never see them, with one exception). But what Paul says, how he reacts, his emotional outbursts and when he tries to reign in his emotion, only to let it out moments later when he’s completely alone, is realistic, organic. Some films would try to be politically correct or skirt around the emotions of Paul. But this film doesn’t and it makes it brilliant. Paul’s not trying to stroke someone’s ego on the other end of the line; he just wants to live and he speaks instinctively, saying what comes to mind, not giving a damn about feelings. He just wants out of this coffin and back to his family.
I can’t imagine parts of this film not moving someone to tears – it strikes such a primal fear and an emotional note, and knowing your fate. The phone calls and some solo moments of Paul are just truly heartbreaking; they touch that human core we all share. This is not an easy movie to watch. I have heard people claim that this was a political movie, and I agree with Reynolds and Cortes, it’s no such thing. It just happens to take place in Iraq. If it’s a political movie, then you’re probably going into seeing it with that in your mind. Don’t. Take it for what it is – a tragic story about a man who wants nothing more than to get back to his family, tell them every second he can that he loves them, when the job he took to provide for them has determined his fate, although he’s not a solider. Just a man trying to provide for his family and a governmental, bureaucratic system unwilling to fight for him.