Buried (2010) Dir. Rodrigo Cortés
Slip into a wooden box with only your cell phone and flashlight, and try to stay there for 95 minutes (it’s how long the movie lasts). Ryan Reynolds did. And he pulled us in with him.
Ryan Reynolds’ character Paul Conroy is a truck driver in Iraq. After the attack on his truck, he is kidnapped and held captive in a coffin. The only catch: he has only a few hours to get ransom money. How can a driver, not even a U.S. soldier, get $5 million using only his cell phone? Those of you who guessed he can’t are right. Why then should we care?
The story is based on Paul’s calls to different people, asking them for help. Buried in the middle of Iraqi nowhere, he manages to call Sheriff’s office in Idaho, or FBI, among other institutions and individuals. Some of those calls bring a sort of comic relief, and a very grotesque one, of course, when he is asked most ridiculous questions: his social security number, or his exact location. A buried guy about to die couldn’t care less about the former, and more about the latter. Anyway, one person he doesn’t get through to is his wife. In result, until the end, we don’t witness any cheap melodrama – the creators don’t waste time on sentimental solutions. Instead, they focus on convincing us Paul stands a chance to get out of the box. Each conversation reveals bits and pieces about Paul’s situation. When at some point he exchanges calls with only Dan Brenner, a kind of kidnapping expert, and the kidnapper, we realize how little depends on him, after all.
An important element of the story is the political situation in Iraq, or rather the human situation. The events take place in 2006. Kidnapping of American citizens by Iraqi people (rebels or terrorists – Paul isn’t sure) is common and widespread. Practically, we see the story only from Paul’s perspective; however, during the brief calls with the kidnapper, we get glimpses of his life: he is a troubled, desperate man who lost his family, including his kids. The movie doesn’t justify the kidnapper’s actions and choices nor is it trying to do right by the Iraqi people. In fact, it is quite courageous in giving us the kidnapper’s story from the vantage point of the kidnapped. And what image of the war does it present? Is it too far-fetched to say that it presents a conflict of an individual versus a faceless and heartless corporation? Not until a very cruel conversation with a representative from the company Paul works for. Symbolically, it becomes one man against the rest of the world. However, there is much truth there, the truth about corporate politics and fear of court suits. We witness how insignificant a human life may be for a huge corporation.
“Buried” uses claustrophobia and fear of darkness to keep us on the verge of our seats. It succeeds at the beginning; however, as the story develops, the movie fails to be so claustrophobic. My impression was that the coffin was becoming bigger and bigger towards the end. At first, Paul concentrates on getting out of the box and projects his fears on us. Later, he is pulled into the midst of an international terrorist conflict, taking the focus away from the coffin itself. Yes, there are a few very intensive scenes, for example, the snake, or the cutting off of his finger. Unfortunately, they are not enough to make the movie mesmerizing, as the poster suggests. The story itself is partly to blame: predictable and without many major breakthroughs. Plus, the moments when he records his video testament or eventually gets through to his wife slow down the pace. On the one hand, it’d be banal, naive and Hollywood-like if he got out the box. On the other hand, the movie strays from sentimental solutions so we can safely predict the ending. It’s hard to get out of this paradox.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a good side, too. For one, it is beautifully shot. The movie skillfully plays with shadows, light and darkness. It uses various colors of light (his phone gives off blue light, the glow lights – green, for example) to make it more diverse and interesting visually. Moreover, we never get out of the coffin. The movie is consequent in sticking with Paul’s perspective. We are kept “in the dark” all the time since we don’t know the location of the coffin (after all, it might be near the surface). Thanks to that, we can’t be sure what chance Paul stands, if any. Fortunately, Cortés and his crew don’t let us go back to our comfort zone until the fatal ending. This movie is not supposed to bring comfort. On the contrary, it is supposed to leave us with insecurity and anxiety.
Rodrigo Cortés does the best he can to not let us go out of the wooden box. He wants the sense of claustrophobia to hold us by our throats till the very end. “Buried” tells a quite gripping story. Naturally, we identify with Paul and care for his well-being. However, I personally didn’t expect him to be saved (unlike some girls in the audience who seemed disappointed he wasn’t). Anyhow, I loved Ryan Reynolds’ performance: genuine, solid, emotional but balanced at the same time. He almost literally carries the story on his shoulders. This and the great cinematography make it visually worth watching. As for the rest – watch the movie and judge for yourselves.
Long days, pleasant nights,