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Buried: in which Ryan Reynolds is buried underground in a coffin with a cell phone, a lighter and some glow sticks and spends 90 minutes trying to fight his way out. You're pretty much in or out with the premise alone. Claustrophobics need not apply, obviously--director Rodrigo Cortes is committed to keeping the drama entirely inside this average-sized coffin. But as anyone who watched Hitchcock play with space and tension in Rope and Lifeboat will know, limited room invites a lot of cinematic invention, and newcomer Cortes has the skill to make his 90 minute experiment work brilliantly.
Reynolds, of course, is precisely the guy you want an audience stuck in a box with-- even without a co-star to react against and a character who's only feeling various levels of panic for the entire film, Reynolds is as mesmerizing and engaging as ever. His character, Paul Conroy, is an American truck driver working as a contractor in Iraq, and is ill-equipped to survive when he finds himself buried underground. Calling everyone from 411 to his company's personnel department to someone who's clearly an ex-girlfriend or sister-in-law, Paul struggles to make contact with the outside world with the acute awareness that the oxygen is running out, and whoever put him in the box is demanding a ransom that's unlikely to be paid.
The screenplay by Chris Sparling is inventive enough-- it takes a lot of skill to come up with things for Paul to do in that box for 90 minutes, and the commentary on America's role in iraq and our general inability to help the people we've sent there hits powerfully without overplaying its hand. But it's really what Cortes does with his camera, with practical lighting and sound design and leaving enough to the audience's imagination, that makes Buried special. By the light of the cell phone, the Zippo and the flickering flashlight, Cortes has us get to know Paul and empathize, painfully, with his plight; then he has the nerve to stage an action scene inside a coffin. And he has the skill to pull it off.
Sparling wrote Buried as an experiment to see just how small a film could be, and Cortes has clearly taken on the project to prove his talent as an effort to get bigger things made. Despite its masterfully controlled tension and emotional pull, Buried doesn't quite feel like a full-fledged movie, and might not work so well for audience who paid their $12 without the bonus of a Ryan Reynolds Q&A at the end. But suspense junkies and aspiring filmmakers will be forced to marvel at how on earth these guys pulled it off, and even someone who comes into the movie hoping for something bigger will find their heart racing by the end. With a star like Reynolds in the lead and what's sure to be a lot of nerdy buzz coming out of Sundance, Buried will likely be showing up in theaters sometime soon; go in prepared for a clever cinematic experiment, ignore the little flaws, and be rewarded.
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