Is a movie like Buried an actor's greatest dream -- or his worst nightmare?
On the one hand, you have the entire movie to yourself. The camera is on you for the whole film; you need to share the screen with no one.
On the other hand, you have no one to play off, no one to react to, no one to talk to (other than voices on the phone). Oh yeah -- and you spend the entire movie confined to a space the size of a coffin.
Buried seems like a gimmick -- a high-concept movie that would wear out its welcome after the first 15 minutes or so. But director Rodrigo Cortes and writer Chris Sparling not only keep you involved -- they rivet your attention to the screen by putting you right there in the action.
Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, who awakens in the dark to discover that he's been buried alive. He has a cigarette lighter -- an old-fashioned Zippo -- to illuminate his circumstances: that he's trapped in a rough wooden box. Before long, he discovers a Blackberry in the box with him -- when someone calls it -- and begins to use it as his lifeline to possible escape.
Paul, it turns out, is a contractor in Iraq -- a truck driver for a Texas company (read: Halliburton) lured to the Middle East by promises of great pay and full security, the latter of which obviously was untrue. His convoy of trucks was attacked, first by kids with rocks, then by IEDs and men with guns.
Now he's come to in a box that's been buried who knows where. Well, actually, the kidnappers know where. And they call him to tell him that they want millions of dollars in 90 minutes -- which happens to be the film's running time -- or they'll let him suffocate.
The company gave Paul a "safety" number but it's missing from his wallet -- so he begins working the phone, calling whoever seems logical: the State Department, the FBI, the company itself. But he is also being harassed by the kidnappers, who send him videos of another of his co-workers who is in their custody. They demand that he use the Blackberry to make a video of his own, explaining his situation, which they can use to pressure the U.S. and his company to pay the ransom.
It's odd to describe a film about a guy in a box as a roller-coaster ride -- but Buried leaves you breathless and wrung out. Cortes employs a variety of angles, lighting schemes (involving the lighter, the cell phone, some glow sticks) and editing tricks to crank up the tension from scene to scene. Tension and release, tension and release - except the tension is always a little greater, the release providing less and less relief as the deadline appears.
Reynolds has yet to have his break-out hit, though he's got a following from films such as Van Wilder and Waiting. He came close with The Proposal, though that was seen as Sandra Bullock's film, and so he remains an actor who gets a lot of work but has yet to really become a star.
Yet, as he shows here, he brings a lot of skills to every role, starting with a terrific sense of comic timing (which even comes into play here). But his slightly cross-eyed good looks and his ability to tap into primal emotions enable him to do believable, involving dramatic work.
And that's the case here: As Paul, he pulls us into his tiny cell of desperation and forces us to feel each painful breath of dwindling oxygen, each adrenalized jolt of fear, each plummet into despair. He's believable as an average guy who's gotten in way over his head, who is scratching and scrambling for any tiny thread of possibility to keep himself alive.
You'll be gasping right along with him by the end of Buried, a film that takes a simple idea and turns it into a movie that elicits complex reactions from the viewer.