Buried (2010)

A minute into Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, Ryan Reynolds wakes up to find that he has been… well, buried. With his awakening, the audience begins its 90-minute stay underground. We are allotted no breaks via flashbacks, no breathers via cutaways. From start to finish, we share Ryan Reynold’s claustrophobia in this well-plotted and very suspenseful film.

Its singular setting makes Buried an unusual film. The last time a movie took place entirely in a single setting was probably Joel Schumacher’s 2002 film Phone Booth, a movie which was originally pitched to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s – Appropriate, since the only other film to confine its story to a single setting is Hitchock’s 1944 film Lifeboat. Movies such as these aim to put the audience on the same level as the characters in the film. We are not privileged viewers; we know only what the characters know, because our eye doesn’t get to wander beyond their confinement. Buried is at once both more extreme and a superior movie than these two predecessors. With only a single actor onscreen and a story that’s more or less in real time, Buried succeeds in making a lot come from a little.

Paying dues to his influences, Cortés begins the film with an extremely Hitchcockian credit sequence. After Reynolds wakes up, we join him in slowly piecing together how he ended up in a coffin underground. He was a simple working man, a truck driver in Iraq, when his caravan was attacked by insurgents. The insurgents killed everyone else and buried Reynolds to barter for ransom. He finds this out after speaking to his kidnapper on a cellphone that was left at the foot of the casket.

With its monumental importance to Reynolds’ situation, the phone practically becomes another character. Its limited battery life amps up the tension as Reynolds tries to call everyone he can think of. His first few attempts are all met with voicemail messages, on-hold music, and skeptical operators. He grows impatient and angry, reaching his boiling point several times and yelling at the people he speaks to. He could probably serve himself better by remaining calm, but there’s no blaming him – his situation has transformed these every day annoyances from minor inconvenience into life-threatening frustrations.

The phone also acts as one of his light sources. He has a few others – a Zippo lighter, a recalcitrant flashlight that refuses to stay on, and an emergency giant glow stick (which is totally the proper name for those things). Each of these light sources bathes Reynolds and his cramped interior in a different color light, so the film manages to have an interesting light scheme even in its limited luminance. Similarly, the cinematography is also unexpectedly varied. Cortés and cinematographer Eduard Grau are working with a film that demands constant close-ups, but they still manage to keep the camera moving and the shots interesting. They even give us a nice overhead zoom-out on occasion, an impossible angle realistically but one that’s appreciated nonetheless.

With a film as small-scale as this, boredom is always a lingering threat. Fortunately, it rarely surfaces, but it does appear shortly after the midway point. It’s at this time that the tension is artificially enhanced by a snake that materializes out of nowhere. Reynolds fights it off using fire, evoking questions concerning what exactly was in his flask and how much oxygen is in that coffin to burn away. Around this time, the viewer may check the time to see how much longer they’ll be forced to stay buried.

But such restlessness will be short-lived. The third act offers a lot of interesting commentary and constant flip-flopping on the issue of Reynolds’ survival. Unable to talk to his wife until the final minutes of the film, Reynolds instead has to speak with a representative from his employer who terminates his job in an effort to avoid any liabilities, and a State Department hostage specialist who Reynolds (rightfully) suspects is lying about their track record in saving hostages. These conversations are tense and reflect the way that everyone is out to save their own asses instead of our hero’s. Reynolds is left in disbelief that his own life is such a low priority to these organizations. Whether it was intended or not, it’s a poignant point about the value of human lives in our Middle Eastern engagements.

I can’t end this review without heaping tons of praise onto Ryan Reynolds. For a man who began his film career as National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, he’s certainly come a long way and has starred in films of wide-ranging genres. There aren’t many people who could carry such a one-man show like Buried, but Reynolds manages to do it with ease. Frustrated and confused, but determined to survive and get home to his wife, Reynolds makes us forget that he’s been an FBI agent and a superhero in the past. In Buried, Reynolds is just an ordinary guy who finds himself in an utterly horrifying situation. It might be awful to spend 90 minutes stuck in a coffin underground, but if I’m going to do it, I’m at least happy that it’s with Ryan Reynolds.

Final Rating: 8/10

Stray Observations:

  • Really though, any appropriate scientists want to comment on how realistic it is that he’s using a flame for so long in this confined space? Is that possible?
  • I know that Dan (Robert Paterson) had been lying to Reynolds the entire time about that Mark White guy, but I still really liked the guy. Call me a sucker for British accents.
  • One minute he’s taking his anxiety medication with whatever’s in the flask, the next he’s starting a pretty long-lasting fire with it. Either he’s fine with taking his medication with gasoline or the water in that thing comes from some fracking site.
  • I was really rooting for Reynolds to make it out of there. Those last few minutes are heart-breaking, especially since he already told his wife that he’d make it home okay.
  • The entire time watching this, I was silently judging Reynolds for not even attempting the one-inch punch that got The Bride out of the same situation.
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