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Buried

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 10/21/10 00:17:53

"Everything you need for a good thriller, absolutely nothing you don't."
5 stars (Awesome)

"Buried" is the sort of movie where every step in the process of getting made is a combination between those involved challenging themselves and crafting a movie that can be shot with a tiny budget, cast, and crew. Fortunately, this is one of the ones where the folks involve rise to the challenge, even on a set with very little headroom.

We open in darkness, not seeing Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) until he uses his Zippo lighter. He's bound and gagged, in a box roughly the size of a coffin, and while he is able to free himself from the ropes fairly quickly, he's not going anywhere. He does find a mobile phone in the box with him, along with his empty wallet, a pencil, a knife, a flask of water, and his anxiety medication. As he makes his attempts to contact the outside world, we eventually learn how he got in this situation - he's a trucker, working a contract in Iraq, and his convoy was attacked. He eventually hears from his kidnapper Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez), and gets in contact with a State Department rep whose job it is to facilitate the release of hostages (Robert Paterson). But, as we all know, U.S. policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

When the local film society has its nomination meeting early next year, I think I'm going to have fun defending my inclusion of Buried among my selections in the category of "Best Cinematography", as its hyper-constricted setting is roughly the opposite of the usual definition of great camera work; the only scenes set outside of this box appear on the telephone's minuscule screen (disclaimer: I may or may not be including the last five minutes of the movie). Cinematographer Eduard Grau has a very restricted set of angles to work with in any given shot, even though the walls and roof of the coffin are likely added digitally in some shots, but it seldom feels like we are getting unfair shots; the P.O.V. almost always seems to be inside the box. It's a legitimate marvel of close-up photography.

Director (and, perhaps crucially, editor) Rodrigo Cortes avails himself of a few tricks - the nifty animated title sequence, for instance, has our subconscious thinking that Paul must be deep and inaccessibly underground, even though logic and voices on the phone tell us that that there's probably only a few feet of sand above him. For the most part, though, he and the other filmmakers succeed by doing a fantastic job of manipulating time and space. Cortes excels at having relatively little happen for just long enough that we feel Paul's time and oxygen ticking away without us actually losing patience, and then speeding things up so that this moment is suddenly urgent. He takes the close quarters as a challenge, and avoids things ever seeming static; there's a scene that plays like an homage to Indiana Jones, and the occasionally bombastic score by Victor Reyes could easily come across as ludicrous self-parody, but in those moments, Cortes is showing us a dynamic, fast-paced movie.

The people who turn out surprisingly good together - and they need to be - are writer Chris Sparling and star Ryan Reynolds. If you go through Paul's actions page by page and line by line, your first reaction might be that they often don't make logical sense. It's a high-stress situation, certainly, but that doesn't necessarily excuse someone making conveniently bad decisions. Reynolds sells us on every bit of fear and anxiety, making us see Paul as a reasonable man in a truly unreasonable position, maybe not always doing what we would do (or what we would like to think we'd do), but needing to do something. His every scene is opposite someone on the other end of a phone, and his face always registers the futility and desperation of these conversations.

The story has a few holes in it (although one could argue that Paul's kidnappers are no more likely to act reasonably than he is), but Reynolds, Cortes, and company keep us engrossed to the end, and top it off with one of the more effective one-two punches to end a movie in recent memory. And, true to form, once the film has delivered it, it's over seconds later. A movie this dedicated to only including what it needs to isn't going to pad the end one second more than necessary.

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