Directed by: Rodrigo Cortés
Premise: A United States truck driver (Ryan Reynolds) working in Iraq during the war is captured by insurgents and awakens in a coffin to find himself buried alive with a cellphone and a lighter.
What Works: Buried is the kind of high concept movie that requires a perfect or near perfect execution in order to work. This is a movie literally about a man in a box and it could quite easily become silly or obnoxious or just redundant. Fortunately, director Rodrigo Cortés handles the material with a great deal of skill and Buried is a squirm inducing thriller that is more engaging than a lot of movies with vast production values. The filmmakers consistently find new ways of making what is essentially the same image interesting by using new angles and mixing the light sources or otherwise manipulating the framing and focus to continually change up the imagery. Buried takes place in nearly real time and for that reason the editing and continuity in this film are very impressive. In more conventional movies little inconsistencies are easy to disguise or overlook but in Buried those errors would leap out. The filmmakers, especially the art director and makeup staff, deserve a lot of credit for maintaining the illusion in this film. Accolades should also be extended to Ryan Reynolds for his performance. Movie stars, especially handsome leading men, often reach a point at which they can no longer act convincingly; the star power of their very presence overshadows the characters they are playing. Such actors also tend to keep to roles that reinforce their glamorous image. But Reynolds performance in Buried violates those stereotypes. This is a story that puts its character through an emotional ringer and Reynolds performance captures that with a lot of honesty in some unglamorous circumstances. The dirtiness of the production is key to what works most about Buried. The picture makes the dirt, grime, and darkness very tangible and the movie instills in the viewer the illusion of being buried alive in a wooden box. The filmmakers combine a claustrophobic environment, Reynolds’ empathetically panicked performance, and an intelligent script to make a film that is an emotional rollercoaster. The moviemakers of Buried do an excellent job of leading the audience on, then deflating their hopes, only to raise and defeat them again. The rise and fall of emotion in Buried gradually gets steeper as it pushes toward the climax and the filmmakers deserve a lot of credit for sticking to the tone of the story and maintaining the artistic integrity of the movie.
What Doesn’t: Buried slips in a few moments in which Ryan Reynolds falls back on the witty persona that has made him a movie star. This only occurs a few times and the humor does help to humanize the character but it also makes the viewer conscious of the actor’s identity in ways that detract from the immediacy of the premise. Buried is a tough movie and in many respects it ought to be categorized as an entry in the horror genre. The unrelenting bleakness of Buried is to its credit but it is unlikely that viewers will want to return to Buried for repeat viewings. This is the kind of movie that critics and film students will want to dissect in order to understand how and why it works but on entertainment grounds it isn’t the kind of movie that encourages repeated viewing.
DVD extras: Featurette, trailer.
Bottom Line: Buried is in many ways unpleasant to watch but it is also incredibly well made and unusually creative. The picture fell largely under the radar of mainstream viewers when it first appeared but the picture is well worth seeking out, especially for those interested in the possibilities of limited moviemaking.
Episode: #433 (March 31, 2013)