94 minutes (real time) of fading oxygen makes for unusual entertainment.
Reviewed for CompuServe by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Rodrigo Cortes
Written By: Chris Sparling
Cast: Ryan Reynolds. Voices of Robert Paterson,Jose Luis Garcia-Perez, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Maryanne Conroy - Warner Loughlin, Ivana Mino, Erik Palladino
Screened at: 57th St. Screening Room, NYC, 9/16/10
Opens: September 24, 2010
When the German movie "Das Boot" was made, cynic complained that you can't use the big screen and put all the action inside a submarine. More recently, as the Israeli feature "Lebanon" was shot, some film buffs must have laughed: "You're going to use nothing but the inside of a tank to unfold your story?" Now things are even more claustrophobic, because with "Buried," the Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes does not film a single moment outside a seven-foot long wooden coffin. Nothing. Zip. Remember this is not an off-off-Broadway show but cinema, where traditional beliefs call for opening up a tale to fit a huge screen. Does it work? Yes and no. There is considerable suspense, much tension, some sharp dialogue, black humor, all using no special effects. No green screen, no animation. The actor is inside a box albeit with one side always open for the camera. Seven coffins were used, each with a discrete aspect, but the viewing public does not know or need to know that there's anything but a box and a man inside the box. On the other hand, you can't blame the audience for wanting more variety. What does the desert outside look like? What are the features of the villain? Is it really necessary to go to this extreme just to prove you can knock out a film with such an original twist?
Ryan Reynolds, best known for romantic comedies like "Definitely, Maybe" and "The Proposal" turns in a tour-de-force performance. He is literally in every frame. There are no other actors, only disembodied voices. Ryan Reynolds takes the role of Paul Conroy who is in Iraq but is neither a soldier nor a contract mercenary with Blackwater. He's a simple truck driver hired by a private U.S. corporation to deliver humanitarian aid, specifically kitchen supplies for a community center. His convoy is ambushed, most of the truckers killed, but he is kept alive as a hostage by a common criminal, not a terrorist, demanding ransom. Somehow the bad guy, Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia-Perez) thinks that this thirty-year-old fellow with $700 in the bank and a wife back home in Michigan has five million dollars which can be produced and wired in two hours. OK Jabir comes down to one million, but even a day-trader cannot turn $700 into that figure so fast.
Chris Sparling's dialogue yields moments of humor, but most of time the words used by Paul Conroy on a cell phone that the criminal deliberate left with him (to make a video) show the victim's anguish, desperation, fury at people on the other ends of the line for their lack of understanding. He calls a 411 operator (Mary Songbird) begging for numbers of key departments in the U.S., cursing her out for her lack of efficiency and understanding. He phones a hostage negotiator, Dan Brenner; (Robert Paterson) who gives Paul confidence that he can be found via the cell phone connection. The 911 operator (Kali Rocha) is no help though it's not her fault as nobody in Youngstown, Ohio can get to Iraq within two hours. The darkest call is from his employer, Alan Davenport (Stephen Toboloswky), with a message so evil that we in the audience may desire to overthrow capitalism.
Paul makes the most of what he has with him: a pen, a flashlight, a Zippo lighter, a pocket knife, and most of all his cell, which starts off fully charged and quickly uses up half of the battery. There's not much he can do aside from banging on the sides and roof of the wooden coffin, yelling, and in one scene having a vivid imagination of his rescue. The thought running through my mind throughout is: will Paul wind up dead, buried alive, or will he be saved just before taking his final breath? Or, will the picture have a more European ending? Think of the great Dutch movie "The Vanishing" in which the victim dies and the American remake that saves the guy at the conclusion. I attended a screening in a nicely furnished mid-Manhattan basement theater, one flight down from the main floor. As we left, critics could be heard taking deep breaths, one saying "Let me out of this basement!" The film takes place in 2006 during President George W. Bush's administration. One wonders whether his aggressive, pro-waterboarding Vice President, Dick Cheney, would see the movie today and kick himself: "Why didn't I think of that?"
Rated R. 93 minutes. © 2010 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online