Is setting a movie in the pre-Internet, pre-cell phone era a storytelling shortcut -- or a storytelling challenge?
Think about it. In the age of connectivity and oversharing, how often have you watched a movie --- whether it's a comedy or thriller or an action-adventure -- and thought to yourself, "Well, why doesn't he just use his cell phone?" Or "Why doesn't he just Google it?"
Just as that sort of access to both information and interpersonal communication makes life so much easier (and annoying), it has provided the easy out for screenwriters.
Got your character caught in a jam? Have him make a distress call with the phone he's got in his pocket.
Need to put your character in instant jeopardy? Have the phone's signal -- or battery -- fail at a crucial moment.
Looking for the last critical clue in a mystery? In the movies, you can find out anything if you just ask a search engine the right question.
Want to throw up a roadblock? Typos usually don't yield the correct results, at least not in a Web address. (In a search, you get that "Did you mean such-and-so?" if you misspell your search request.)
In Buried, Ryan Reynolds gives a tour de force performance as a guy who is kidnapped and wakes up in coffin, buried underground. All he's got, as the ads said, are a lighter, a flashlight and a cell phone -- and a well-equipped Blackberry at that. In this form, this is a movie that couldn't have been made, say, 10 years ago (before video cameras were standard operating equipment on cell phones) or 20 years ago (before cell phones were common possessions).
So, yes, while the movie is about his journey as a guy desperately trying to save his own life, the plot is about his cell phone -- which gets a sketchy enough signal that it offered the writer, Chris Sparling, the opportunity to have it both ways -- phone as lifesaver, phone as unreliable equipment.
By contrast, Let Me In, set in the early 1980s, told the story of a young vampire and her unhappy next-door-neighbor, who becomes her best friend. But she and her guardian are creating a stir by leaving a trail of dead bodies, drained of blood to feed her sanguinary appetite.
Yet the cop who's on her trail (Elias Koteas -- and when is someone going to cast him and Robert De Niro as brothers -- or father and son?) has little to go on. Why?