Monday, 25 October 2010

Buried (2010)

Image: Icon Film Distribution

Opinion seems to be split on Rodrigo Cortés’ thriller. Some audiences found the man-in-the-box conceit dull and not worth 90 minutes of their time. Others found it claustrophobic, gripping, and almost unbearably tense. I found I belonged to the latter group, and was very happy to be out of the cinema breathing fresh air.

Paul Conroy (Reynolds) wakes up in a coffin. He’s a civilian truck driver in Iraq whose convoy was attacked. His captors have left him his lighter, a torch, and a mobile phone. He’s told that he has 90 minutes to get 5 million dollars ransom, or he’ll be left to die. Can he reach the people who can help him in time, and will they be able to find him?

The conceit of the single, tiny location with one actor and his mobile has drawn comparisons to Hitchcock’s work but its clever economy is more reminiscent of Larry Cohen, who, among several 80s horror films, wrote Phone Booth and Cellular. Cortés, working from a script by Chris Sparling, has made a superior thriller. While the director does occasionally go too far trying to come up with stylish, ingenious ways to shoot a man in a box, it’s his skill with the camera that does half the work of keeping the audience interested for the duration. At its best, the camerawork emphasises the narrow confines of the box, lingering on Paul’s desperate face, the beads of sweat running down alongside the grains of sand that begin to seep in.

The other half of the heavy lifting is done by Ryan Reynolds. The actor hasn’t had to work this hard since John August’s little-seen drama The Nines, and delivers a career-best performance. Paul Conroy goes through the stages of grief in ninety minutes, raging at answer-phones and ex-girlfriends who don’t listen to his pleas for help, desperately trying to get in touch with his boss in America, and pleading with his captors to release him. It’s a powerful reminder that he can do more than superhero movies and Sandra Bullock rom-coms.

Buried is not perfect. There are holes in the script’s logic that aren’t sufficiently explained, and some of the actors performing the voices on the other end of the phone aren’t as good as they should be. Some of the script’s political critique comes across as a little flat and obvious, but Cortés and Reynolds work hard to remind us that Buried is, at its heart, about a man who is staring death in the face. Thanks to their sterling work, the film is one of the most brutally efficient thrillers of the year.

JH

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