This is a win-win for Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds participates in an ambitious dark thriller that if done right would give him the indie street cred that every actor lusts after in order to be taken seriously or the film simply flops but is quickly forgotten in the late summer shuffle and the Hollywood funnyman would get a pat on the back for trying. This film may not reach the unique high level of filmmaking it aspires to but it is good and is a showcase for Reynolds as he delivers his greatest performance to date along with some very nifty directing by Rodrigo Cortés.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is contractor truck driver who gets ambushed while working in Iraq. The film starts with a half-minute of silence in total darkness when Paul awakens in a coffin buried in the ground, which appropriately sets a tension filled tone that the film uses to put the viewer at unease throughout. Paul has only a cell phone that has but three of its five bars and a lighter at his disposal to work on solving the terrifying puzzle of how to get himself out of the tightly confined death box that is running out of oxygen with his every breath. Paul quickly realizes that there is no way to escape by himself after using every ounce of petrified strength pushing against his confines.
Ryan Reynolds triumphantly scores with what is an exhausting performance both physically and mentally of a man’s every moments in life and death claustrophobic distress for 95 minutes straight. The camera is never off of Reynolds, possibly oppressive for some actors but Reynolds thoroughly shows the transformation of mind-numbing fear that turns to panicked frustration that bounces from sure perilous acceptance to moments of hope. The white shine of the Zippo and the blue glow from the cell is all the film uses to light Reynolds’ terror. As close-ups captured Reynolds’ sweaty and bloodied face, a lot of the shots would only partially show a sliver of his expression, so it was to the actor’s impressively precise intonation that we as an audience are left to rely on to know how Paul Conroy is doing at that moment.
Since the film never uses flashbacks and never leaves the coffin it’s all the more impressive how Rodrigo Cortés’ direction keeps “Buried” from being more than just a film school exercise and keeps us engaged. Cortés borrows a little of Sam Raimi’s jump cuts, Paul Thomas Anderson’s fast sweeping pans, David Fincher’s fourth wall defying camera tricks, and inspired confined locations from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” and “Lifeboat” to produce an ever engrossing race against time. A lot of the mood comes from the film’s heart-pounding score by Víctor Reyes. What gets Cortés in trouble at some points is his inclination to make this into an action flick inside a coffin instead of simply relying on the quieter drama of being buried alive. While a scene of Conroy desperately searching for cell phone service feels like you’re watching a man jumping off of a building and grabbing onto the small part of a helicopter, this and other high charged moments like it (including a very ineffective almost silly scene involving a snake) take away from the emotional despair of the far greater mental anguish of waiting to die and having your family and everything else taken away from you.
Chris Sparling’s inventive screenplay doesn’t make us feel good watching it and rightly isn’t supposed to. One of the more disturbing scenes is the voice of Stephen Tobolowsky as the representative of Conroy’s employer revealing some disturbing ethics. While the story does come close and may in fact graze the emotional plateau of everything that’s at stake from time to time, it isn’t quite able to permanently reside there. No worries though, that’s not enough to dig it’s own grave six feet under since we are left with a dark film going experience lead by a break-out performance that will hopefully become a habit from the talented Ryan Reynolds.
Reviewed by Mitch Hansch