- Rated R
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All photos © Lionsgate
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here’s a scene in “Kill Bill: Volume Two” where Uma Thurman’s The Bride has been buried in a coffin by one of the men she's trying to kill. She doesn’t panic, and within a matter of minutes manages to escape the claustrophobic death trap thanks to her martial arts training. But despite providing a unique obstacle for the film’s heroine, the scene never really touches on the fear and danger of being buried alive. The protagonist of “Buried” isn't as lucky, because he's stuck underground for a considerable amount of time. 95 minutes, to be exact. And though staging an entire film inside a coffin may sound like an easy way to drive people away, “Buried” is so captivating from the very first minute that the risk more than pays off.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Paul Conroy, an American truck driver working for civilian contractors in Iraq when his convoy is attacked and he’s taken hostage. The movie begins shortly after as he wakes up to discover that he’s been buried in a coffin somewhere in the middle of the desert, with his kidnappers demanding $5 million for his release. Armed with only a Zippo lighter, a Blackberry and some pencils, Paul begins furiously dialing 911, the FBI, the State Department – anyone that will listen to his story – in an attempt to expedite his rescue. Running short on air (and cell phone battery), Paul desperately tries to find help before time runs out, all while his mysterious kidnappers torture him via the cell phone that they’ve provided.
There’s a certain degree of suspension of disbelief that’s required to enjoying a movie like “Buried,” but despite some of the more implausible details of the story, it doesn’t really tarnish the overall experience. When the movie premiered at Sundance, there were a lot of jokes about Paul’s incredible cell phone service, but Chris Sparling’s script does well to make the whole phone issue as realistic as possible with dropped calls and the suggestion that Paul isn’t buried as deep as he thinks. It’s still a little ridiculous to believe that you could get even the crappiest signal in the middle of Iraq while buried underneath feet of sand, but it’s necessary in order for the concept to work.
Ryan Reynolds also puts on a masterful one-man show that proves he can handle meatier roles, tearing through a series of emotions – fear, anger, contempt, remorse, and even joy – as Paul struggles to deal with the harrowing situation that he suddenly finds himself in. It doesn’t really compare to what James Franco accomplishes in the likeminded “127 Hours,” but it’s one of the the actor's finest performances to date, and his commitment to the role shines through in every shot of his dirt-speckled, blood-stained face. It might not win him any awards, but it does provide Reynolds with some much-needed indie cred that will come in handy during the next stage of his career.
Director Rodrigo Cortés is the real star, however, as he’s managed to take a simple yet high-concept idea and transform it into an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that's about as unique as they come. It’s hard to fathom how many people probably told him that a movie about a guy trapped in a box couldn't be done, but thanks to a series of cool camera tricks and the use of artificial light sources like a cell phone screen, a flashlight and a glow stick (all of which add a cool color scheme to the look of the film), Cortés manages to hold your interest throughout its lean 95-minute runtime. "Buried" may fall a little short in the end due to its disappointing conclusion, but it's still one of the most original movies you'll see all year. A low-budget thriller that punches above its weight.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of "Buried" may be lacking in extras, but the included making-of featurette offers an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the various coffins and camera tricks used during production. A commentary track with director Rodrigo Cortés and star Ryan Reynolds would have been a nice inclusion, but its absence isn’t much of a surprise. Rounding out the set are two trailers and a DVD copy of the movie.