The Man in the Box

Buried (2010)     3.5/5

Directed by Rodrigo Cortes (Lionsgate)

Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin for 94 minutes. Good luck getting heterosexual men to see that one. But seriously, Buried actually is a quite effective thriller, directed and edited by up-and-coming filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes. It is, however, quite debatable as to why the National Board of Review awarded Chris Sparling for Best Original Screenplay back in 2010, not because the film is poorly written, but simply because it draws suspense through baroque camera angles, dazzling lighting, and a genuine sense of claustrophobia. Meanwhile, the story elements leave something to be desired.

Reynolds is terrific as the film’s only principle actor, no scenes being presented outside of the coffin (although there are some cool shots that visualize the space directly surrounding it, simply represented as darkness). Unfortunately, Buried is very quick to announce why exactly Reynolds has been trapped underground, and it soon becomes obvious that the Iraq-centered narrative has a political agenda. This presents no lack of ambition, but does distract from the the principle concept of the movie, which is to display one of the greatest human fears in a way that only cinema can.

To convey this claustrophobia (and fear of quickly approaching death) is Reynolds, who has basically been given a chance to display his acting ability. His performance is utterly captivating and realistic, although the story that encapsulates his character never quite works. Reynolds plays an American truck driver based in Iraq, his unfortunate situation being a result of higher powers meddling in a place they don’t belong, and as a result, simply not giving a f**k about the little guy.

I almost wish Buried would have taken this concept further, but instead we have melodramatic ties to this character’s life, including a senile mother. The film would have been far more interesting if it had applied its political allegory to an overall, humanistic question – whether we could care about a man living or dying if he means basically nothing to us, rather than just the good ‘ol USA. Instead, we do care about poor Ryan Reynolds (in addition to that situation overseas), which ultimately makes for compelling entertainment, but fails to fully take advantage of the intriguing premise.

This is no 127 Hours, which was tremendous in accessing its protagonist’s psyche, in addition to thoroughly moving us, but Buried does arouse significant interest in its question of who is genuinely attempting to help Reynolds get above ground, or what is actually occurring in the outside world (Reynolds has been given a cell phone with remarkable service, yet a gradually depleting battery). Further ambiguity and plot twists would have helped this cause, as could a MacGuffin or two (Cortes claims that Hitchcock is one of his influences). In other words, if deeper mystery were to surround us, the constraints of the coffin would only apply more pressure, and for the audience, continued pleasure.

But the film does provide a conclusion worth appreciating, staying true to the themes and narrative strands that the film uses to continually entertain us. It also makes your heart skip a beat. Hitchcock was groundbreaking in his use of dark humor, telling bizarre stories that somehow seemed grounded within reality. To some extent, he was showing us the simple perplexities of life. Although Rodrigo Cortes isn’t completely successful with Buried, he makes it quite clear that he is attempting something beyond simple entertainment. On that front, it’s important to note what a true talent Cortes is behind the camera, thrilling us like few modern filmmakers have the skill to execute. You’ll feel trapped, yes, but unlike Reynolds’ character, you’ll also have quite a fun time under a few feet of dirt and sand.

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