MacGuffin Film Review – Buried

Film Review – Buried

There are a few reasons why I was interested in Buried, the film from director Rodrigo Cortés and writer Chris Sparling that opens today. Surprisingly, the Adonis Ryan Reynolds was only number three on the list. The first reason was that I’m always intrigued when a film starts out with a premise that inherently limits in such a way that it feels like a problem to overcome. Whether that limitation comes from setting, perspective, timeline, or something else, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. The second reason is that, frankly, I weirdly love ‘buried alive’ stories. Whether it’s Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” the greatest sequence in the Kill Bill films, or that one sweet serial killer storyline on Bones—I just have a weakness for the plot point. Call me morbid if you must, but with promising buzz added in, I was definitely psyched for this movie.

The extra-limiting conceit of the film is that it takes place entirely inside of a coffin. This is confining in the most literal sense, obviously. And yes—it truly never cuts away from the coffin. Reynolds is Paul Conroy, an American truck driver working in Iraq for a contracting company. We begin in darkness, as he wakes up, confused. We hear the sounds of him slapping at walls of the pine box that traps him. His breaths quicken; his hysteria becomes almost uncomfortably evident from only the involuntary sounds of panic that he emits. At this point, I think the level of willingness of the audience as a whole to just go with the film will very much impact the individual viewer’s experience. At my screening, people were tossing jokes at the screen thinking that the movie hadn’t even started yet because the picture was still black, before they finally shut up enough to hear that something was going on. We all know that the shared experience of seeing a film in the theater can be either fun or aggravating, and in the case of this film, an easy-going audience and an open-minded attitude will take you far in enjoying your 95 minutes.

Anyway. Paul has a lighter. He uses it to illuminate his surroundings for himself and the audience. We don’t have much to work with. Then he discovers a cell phone that’s been buried with him. This is, for the most part, what the entire film will be: Paul making and receiving calls. He at first can think of nothing to do but dial 911, which of course is a bit absurd to be doing from Iraq, but also exactly what any well-trained former-American-child would do in this situation. Then comes the cinema agony of not being able to convince anyone of the extreme reality of the predicament at hand. As the audience, we groan for Paul; we think to ourselves, “If ever I get such a crazy call as that, I’ll give the other person the benefit of the doubt.” The requisite and satisfying thriller emotions are on hand very quickly, with Ryan Reynolds effectively selling all of them.

We figure out that Paul’s convoy had been bombed, and that he’s being held for five million dollars in ransom money by insurgents. Eventually, he convinces the right people that his situation is real, and possibilities for various outcomes start to open up. From here on out, though, the film causes problems for itself by diverting tensions from the basic obstacle at hand in downright silly ways. If you think that once a man is buried alive, his environment is pretty much settled…well, you aren’t using your imagination. It’s also a bit amazing how much Cortés undermines the tension he creates by then overdirecting it, with ridiculous zooming and other camera tricks that obnoxiously call attention to themselves in this setting.

Despite its missteps, Buried is held together by the strength of Reynolds’ performance, and by the sheer desire of the audience to know whether he’ll make it out of this predicament alive. What’s been touted as a thriller worthy of Hitchcock is far from that level, but what we do get is at least a mostly entertaining (if disappointingly over the top) experience. Seen in the right setting and with the right mindset, it will be cheesy fun, but with an edge.

Final Grade: B-

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