Flick in a box – Buried review

Buried – Starring Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Rodrigo Cortés. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Rodrigo CortésBuried achieves the rare feat of being both deliriously enjoyable and relentlessly unpleasant. The film – a furious fusion of Phone Booth, Wait Until Dark, 1408 and Cube – is a ninety-minute test of endurance. This claustrophobic thriller has the potential to inspire palpitations, if not cause your heart to burst right out of your chest. Ryan Reynolds stars as an unlucky soul who is kidnapped and buried in a coffin deep underground, and we get to spend the film’s duration right down there with him. It’s high high high concept, but Cortés’ expertly navigates around the film’s potentially tiresome gimmick with some nifty (and occasionally cheeky) filmmaking techniques, as pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock in his own suffocating classics Rope and Rear Window.

Paul Conroy is an innocent truck driver contracted to work in Iraq during America’s occupation of the tumultuous, war-torn nation. He’s merely working abroad to earn some money for his wife and kids at home. During one fateful convoy, Paul and his fellow truck drivers are ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. The next thing he knows, he’s buried alive somewhere in the desert, with only a lighter, knife and cell phone to keep him company. We don’t actually see any of this; we learn it from Paul’s numerous phone conversations as he desperately calls for help (and as the oxygen in his tomb quickly runs out). So, if you’re hoping that Cortés’ offers occasional relief by flashing-back to before Paul was kidnapped, you’re out of luck. We are stuck in that coffin for the film’s entire running time.

And bless Cortés for sticking to his guns! How easy it would have been to offer momentary respite, a’la the Saw films (which could only wish to have Buried’s cojones). The Spanish director (making his English-language debut) comes so close to making a perfect little self-contained masterpiece. What keeps the film from being a totally transcendent slice of genre cinema is the film’s pesky anti-war (anti-American?) subtext, which is both clumsy and distracting. Conroy is quickly contacted by the Iraqi insurgent who has taken him hostage, although he’s not the film’s most detestable baddy. Without spoiling anything, I can say that honour belongs to one of Paul’s fellow Yanks. In the film’s final act – right when you want the tension to escalate – Cortés and screenwriter Chris Sparling introduce a villainous bureaucrat who is mainly just frustrating. Is the lonely, frightened Conroy meant to represent all the American soldiers who were abandoned by their Government in one of history’s most contentious invasions? If so, surely they deserve to be honoured with more than a half-baked allegory. Buried is – above all else – a popcorn film. Whatever message was trying to be made gets lost in the flurry of hand-wringing tension.

But who could really stay mad at a film as mischievously ingenious as this? From the Saul Bass-inspired opening credit sequence, to its heart-stopping final sequence, Buried is a disciplined throwback to Hitchcock’s finest. Of course, it would be nothing without the central (or, rather only!) performance from Ryan Reynolds. It’s a jaw dropper. Also thanks to his roles in Adventureland and The Nines, Reynolds is proving himself to be much more than a romantic lead. Despite his old-school movie-star good looks, he should be commended for continually choosing roles that, dare we say it, are outside of the box.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Buried arrives in Australian cinemas October 7, 2010.

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