BURIED (2010) review
written by: Chris Sparling
produced by: Adrián Guerra and Peter Safran
directed by: Rodrigo Cortés
rated: R (for language and some violent content)
runtime: 95 mins.
U.S. Release Date: September 25, 2010 (limited) and October 8, 2010 (wide)
In years past, some pictures have been called “one set piece” films, showcasing stories that take place primarily in one place. Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” plays like a live play as most of the action takes place within one room, and Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth” takes place primarily inside a phone booth that the main character must stay inside to speak with the villain on the other end of the line. No film, that I am aware of, has taken the “one set piece” genre to the extent that “Buried” has, as it literally takes place inside a coffin for most of the film’s entirety. So, is the inside of a dark coffin enough to entertain broad audiences for an entire 95 minutes, or should the studio leave this one six feet under?
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a U.S. contract worker doing a job in Iraq. After an attack from a group of Iraqis, Paul wakes up buried six feet underground in a small coffin with only a lighter and a cell phone to work with. Given the small space he is enclosed inside, he figures he has about 90 minutes of oxygen (coincidentally, the length of the film) before he runs out of air.
Oddly enough, Paul has cell reception from within his underground coffin, and uses it to briefly connect with the outside world for help. Despite the spacial confines of the film, the events that play out really work like an action film as Paul encounters many obstacles in his struggle to survive. I won’t go into much more than that for the sake of not spoiling the plot.
The cinematography in “Buried” is fantastic, as Cortés maneuvers the camera in tough to reach places to put the audience inside the coffin with Reynolds’s character. Since the camera never leaves the coffin, viewers feel that unrelenting claustrophobic feeling that the protagonist experiences throughout the film. Many other films, when presenting a tense or difficult-to-watch situation, typically gives audiences an “out” to relieve some stress, such as a cut to another scene that does not present as much imminent danger. In “Buried”, you are always in the action, and Cortés keeps the heat on the viewer and doesn’t give the chance to relax. With this technique, audiences will feel the urgency that Paul Conroy feels in his quest to survive.
Reynolds’s acting performance really comes as a surprise in “Buried”… in a good way. Reynolds has filled his portfolio with gross-out comedies and chick-flicks, so in a serious film where he is forced to carry the film completely on his own, Reynolds actually shines. His performance is engaging and keeps you pulled in through the entire 90 minutes in one space.
Despite the achievements in solo acting and camerawork, the script and story from Chris Sparling leave much to be desired. Even if you just analyze the two “tools” Conroy has to use inside the coffin – the lighter and a cell phone – reality says that he wouldn’t be able to use either of those inside a coffin. With 90 minutes of breathable air left, why would you use a lighter, a tool that burns oxygen and could possibly light your wood coffin on fire, to look around? Also, buried underneath the ground, inside a wood coffin, I am supposed to believe that this character has great reception and is making phone calls when most people can’t get service inside business buildings in major metropolitan areas? I understand the idea of belief suspension for the sake of movies, but if a film is being set in real-time Iraq and seems to be grasping onto the reality that we all know, it must also follow the rules of the reality that we know.
Overall, “Buried” gets an “A” for effort, for sure. If the gimmick of the “one set piece” intrigues you, “Buried” executes very well on that front. The acting and camerawork are very commendable, but some of the plot points within the story needed a little more attention. If you have enjoyed Ryan Reynolds performances in the past, this film will show you a different side of his talents and probably enhance your fandom.