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How good is Buried? So good that you may not even notice how great Ryan Reynolds is. Normally any halfway capable movie which takes the Cast Away route of putting one performer all alone on screen results in instant Oscar talk for whoever that actor is. In this case, though, Buried works not because Ryan Reynolds is good (he is) but because director Rodrigo Cortes is even better.

His film takes place in a box. One box, a wooden coffin to be exact, where Ryan Reynolds can’t even sit up. He plays a contractor named Paul in Iraq, kidnapped and buried alive, with ever dwindling hopes of rescue. His kidnappers have provided him with tools which might help keep him breathing, for a little while, but no real means of escape. Paul wakes up, realizes where he is, and his world falls apart. Over the next 90-minutes we’ll watch him work frantically on his phone, looking for help. We’ll see him struggle to reposition himself in his box. We’ll see him cry. And not much else. There’s only so much you can do in a box. At least there’s only so much Reynolds can do.

Cortes on the other hand is able to use his camera to bring Paul’s tomb to life. He uses his camera to make the space seem bigger and smaller in all the right moments, he plays with the various kinds of light emitted by whatever device Paul’s using to light his environment. Each light casts its own, distinctive glow and Cortes uses that to paint a canvas of color across his otherwise dark and empty screen. You feel every ounce of Paul’s desperation, his misery, his utter frustration not just at his situation but at the politics which put him there, and the bureaucracy which is only too happy to let him stay there and die. Never has any man been so utterly alone.

If there’s a problem with Buried it’s the ending which, seems chosen more out of a desire to be realistic and unflinching than based on the demands of the story being told. Suffice to say if they’d gone a different direction in the movie’s final moments I and almost everyone in the audience with me would have broken down in tears. Instead we simply stood, laughed together at the weirdly inappropriate closing credits music, and walked out to talk about how great everything in the movie had been up till then. And it was good. Really good.