Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Samantha Mathis, Erik Palladino, Stephen Tobolowsky, Robert Paterson, José Luis García Pérez
Directed by Rodrigo Cortés
To be buried alive: one of the most deep-seated and primal fears of mankind. If you just happen to also suffer from claustrophobia, I’d imagine that waking up inside a wooden box in the ground would be quite the mind-shatteringly terrifying experience. Even if you aren’t claustrophobic, you’ll sure as hell start to feel like it after 30 minutes of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried.
Considering Buried is, literally, 95 minutes of a man in a box, I hope you’ll forgive a rather short review. To outright spoil anything is to do the film an exceptional disservice as it would no doubt remove a lot of the surprise, tension, and sheer absorption with which it holds you. Said man in a box is US contractor Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), hired to drive trucks filled with aid supplies in war-torn Iraq. When his convoy comes under attack, Conroy blacks out and awakens (literally in the first moments of the film) in a coffin somewhere in the desert.
Accompanying him is a Zippo lighter, a pencil, and a Blackberry phone. After figuring out his predicament, Paul sets about calling any support numbers he can imagine – 911, his employer, his wife and anyone else who may be able to help. Eventually a contact via the FBI brings the hope of rescue; but with light, cell battery and oxygen running out, will anyone be able to find him in time?
Writer Chris Sparling and director Cortés have taken an audacious leap with Buried and shown that you simply don’t need a huge budget, tons of special effects or anything other than an excellent script, a bucket load of talent and the right cast to pull off an exceptional piece of work. It may bear repeating, but Buried really is a one-man show. There are no visual flashbacks or scenes outside the coffin; we are in there with Conroy for the entire run time – as restricted in our view or understanding of the situation as he is. In terms of pace, the mystery unfolds with rhythmic perfection as more pieces of information and further challenges are introduced.
The occasional lack of any visuals whatsoever (for example as Conroy has to relight the Zippo or close it for a while to rest his fingers) hammers home the intimate nature: During even these moments the audience is rapt, listening diligently to the audio and waiting for the next chance to see their only companion in this hell – just as our protagonist no doubt wishes he could see others. The crushing atmosphere is thick and unsettling, which should serve as another warning to claustrophobics: The theatre is going to start feeling very, very small …
As the story unfolds, Buried will squeeze you in a grip so tight that I nearly expected a crater to form from the sheer gravitational force pulling the audience into their seats. This is a thriller done right – and for those worried about being subjected to merely 95 minutes of talking, Cortés even throws in a few incredibly tense and suspenseful physical sequences. “Action scenes in a coffin?!?” I hear you ask. Well, you’ll just have to see it. Of course it would be silly to assume that Ryan Reynolds will be performing martial arts or engaging in a gunfight inside a coffin – the more kinetic scenes are perfectly organic and simply add another nail-biting layer to the situation in which Conroy finds himself.
Now, to finish off this review, I’ve saved the most special mention for last. Being a one-man show means Buried lives or dies with its star, and after seeing it, it will be hard to imagine anyone other than Ryan Reynolds in the role of Paul Conroy. Running the gamut of emotions through surprise, terror, desperation, anger, sadness, regret and sheer panic, Reynolds will keep your eyes (and ears) firmly focused on the film. It’s impossible to tear anything away from him and impossible not to want to see him come out of this alive. Reynolds’ impeccable comedic timing and delivery go a long way to ingratiating his character with the audience in the early stages; but as the film moves along, he proves once and for all that he isn’t just a hard body and witty smart-mouth, pulling out an endless bag of talent that should rightfully leave his detractors dazzled. If there were ever truly a case of a part being perfectly written for a specific actor, this is it. He doesn’t just knock it out of the park with this one; Reynolds knocks it out, runs out to get it, brings it back, stuffs it up the pitcher’s ass and then knocks it right back out again.
Everyone behind Buried should give themselves a massive pat on the back. They’ve taken a simple premise and, through basic movie magic, created the best thriller of the year by far. If you never thought it would be possible to be taken on a cinematic roller coaster within the confines of a wooden box, get ready for one hell of a surprise.
5 out of 5
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