Imagine the worst day of your life – it could be something as miniscule as a break-up, a divorce, a car accident or a ticket, loss of a job or a home or some bad news involving a health scare of you or a loved one. All of that is drops in a bucket compared to what Buried depicts for 95 minutes. None of us have it as bad in life as Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) does in this short amount of time. Every single obstacle, difficult situation and setback life could throw is a walk in the park from Paul’s perspective, something he would rather deal with instead.
Buried, as soon as its over will give anyone a new lease on life. All previous worries will instantly evaporate, any bad feelings or nerves about the next day, week, month even year can be erased by how bad of a situation Paul is in once he wakes from his state of unconsciousness. Paul is buried alive in a makeshift wooden coffin (elongated to fit a cameraman in) in Iraq with nothing on him except a lighter, a pen, a limited supply of oxygen and a Blackberry phone. Opening the film already buried alive causes instant panic and fear, something director Rodrigo Cortés exploits for the sake of the story written by Chris Sparling.
Exposition is layered throughout the dialogue as Paul figures out what happened to him and how he got into this grave (no pun intended) situation. Reliving or attempting to remember what happened is the least of his worries, Paul’s only goal is to either escape or get himself rescued. In Iraq, Paul is a truck driver who was ambushed by terrorists and left unconscious after being struck in the head by a rock. With progression comes the discovery of more tools to aid in escape: A glowstick, flashlight, a flask, and a pocketknife.
Rodrigo exploits the minimal use of flickering lighting caused by the lighter and the flashlight creating an atmosphere that’s an unbearable to watch yet hypnotizing in the same sense that you can’t look away because of Paul’s next impulsive ploy to free himself of his horrifying situation. As much as everything inside the coffin can aid Paul, it’s also the cause of his disadvantages. The phone is set to an Arabic language with a depleting battery, the flashlight’s batteries are failing, the alcohol and lighter if used incorrectly can cause even more trouble. Only the pen and the glowstick are Paul’s true allies. Metaphorically, the pen Is mightier than the sword here, with it, Paul has a canvas to write important numbers and names of people who do absolutely nothing to help him only depleting his limited oxygen.
For as brilliant the directing is by Cortés, the film is nothing without the claustrophobic performance by Reynolds and he delivers possibly the performance of his career. Its literally a one man show, just him on screen talking, figuring out the who, what, when, where, why and how, for the entire duration of the films plot with others providing voiced support. The voices include Paul’s captor Jabir (José Luis García Pérez), Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) head of the Hostage Working Group, Alan Davenport (Stephen Tobolowsky), Linda Conroy (Samantha Mathis) Paul’s wife, and Pamela Lutti (Ivana Miño) another captive taken by Jabir’s men.
Paul’s situation, as bad as it is, only gets worse as the story progresses. One step forward and two steps back is the best way to describe Paul’s night. Options run thin, panic sets in and all rationality leaves. Paul attempts to call his employer, the state department, the FBI who do nothing to help him only repeat the fact that the United States Government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists after Jabir ransom’s Paul with a YouTube video of $5 million.
The coffin isn’t the only external issue Paul faces. After passing out and reawakening, the stylistically shot cinematography by Eduard Grau shows a venomous guest that Paul must face along with subtle cracks in the wood that let sand in, filling up the coffin for the second half of the film. Fear plays the biggest factor only making death come quicker while those on the phone act as a barrier for his life.
Buried is a situational, psychological thriller that delivers on the premise. And though highly unlikely that any single person would end up in Paul’s position, Sparling’s script and Cortés’ direction can absolutely ask what you would do if you were buried alive in the middle of nowhere with uncooperative people who are only making things worse. Tension is built from moment to moment, fits of panic to hyperventilation to rage and anger and then sadness and acceptance of fate. Every emotion Reynolds is squeezing out of his performance, you feel it with him. Sparling’s script gives the viewer a sense of trepidation in a happy ending, but the hope Is still there. Believing Paul can be rescued by the end is very much alive which is his motivation to keep trying, keep dialing the phone to speak to his wife or to get an update from Dan Brenner.
Cortés perfectly captures how fragile human life is while showcasing the human spirit and the tenacity to live. Tension is built in a multifaceted manner with the score by Victor Reyes leading the way. Sparling creates a cruel story that people have nightmares about. Its anxiety induced, horrifying and unimaginable yet its engulfing of all five senses that will leave you as a shell of your former self before knowing this film existed. If you’re claustrophobic or not, Buried will make you feel trapped even in an open space. Reynolds has the talent to pull this type of role off, showing his range as an actor.
Written By: Chris Sparling
Directed By: Rodrigo Cortés
Music By: Victor Reyes
Cinematography: Eduard Grau
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Release Date: September 24, 2010
Running Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
My Score: 4 out of 5