Wednesday, March 2, 2011

REVIEW: Buried (2010)

Speaking of award winning films, technical innovation, amazing performances, and all around “Best Picture,” there is only one film that comes to mind from the past year: Buried (2010). Nominated for ten awards at the 25th Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent to the Academy Awards), including Best Film, Director, Actor, and Cinematography, the film took home three awards for Best Editing, Sound, and Original Screenplay. The script, written by Chris Sparling, also won Best Original Screenplay at the National Board of Review awards. Produced and filmed in Barcelona, Spain by Versus Entertainment, in association with The Safran Company and Dark Trick Films, Buried premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23rd, 2010. The film was acquired by Lionsgate Entertainment and released theatrically last September in the United States.

The premise of the film is really quite simple. So simple in fact that you wouldn’t think it capable of sustaining a ninety-five minute running time, yet it manages to pull it off quite well. The film begins with Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) awakening to find himself bound and gagged in the dark confines of a wooden coffin. Initially he has no idea what has happened to him. He frantically undoes his restraints and finds in his possession a zippo lighter, a flask, a pen and a blackberry telephone. After failing to contact his wife, Paul attempts to reach the authorities and gets a bureaucratic runaround. Through the questioning on the other end of the line he slowly recalls what happened to him and how he came to be in the box. Paul is ultimately contacted by his captors who demand that he use the blackberry to make a ransom video for them to upload on the Internet. The plot thickens as Paul goes back and forth between dealing with the kidnappers and the State Department trying to locate him. He eventually uncovers more items at the other end of the coffin, including: a knife, two glow sticks, and a flashlight.

With all of the aforementioned lifelines and contact Paul has throughout the film the camera never leaves the coffin. That is, the entire film takes place inside the box. Filming an entire feature in such a limited location is a challenge for sure, but one that the director, Rodrigo Cortes, masterfully handles. The decision to remain focused on Conroy is what makes the film so engaging. Deriving inspiration from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Cortes puts the audience right in the box with Conroy for the duration of the picture and leaves them there to fend for themselves. There are no safe haven cutaways to people in an office, or at their homes. It is dark, dirty, and frantic from start to finish. In fact, the claustrophobic setting heightens the tension to a point where the viewer gets lost in the moment with Conroy, completely captivating the audience. It is only at the end that the viewer realizes there was no other way to present this picture. All of the suspense, drama, and connection would have been lost the second the camera moved outside of the box. Psychologically it is such a simple, yet novel approach to filmmaking and story telling in general.

Technically Cortes makes great use of his self-imposed limitations. Everything from the camera angles to the sound is utilized and presented in such a way as to keep the viewer confined. There is only one break from the closed-in motif, that still remains viable in the context, where the camera pulls back indefinitely to show Conroy lying in the box as the boards surrounding him extend into infinity. This interpretive shot comes at a point where Conroy feels all he has to look forward to is eternity in the box. There are also four sources of light present in the film, the lighter, the flashlight, the glow stick(s) and the cell phone screen, which gives each sequence a unique visual style. This in turn helps to keep the viewer engaged by alternating the composition of the static setting.

Reynolds performance as Conroy is astounding to witness and upgrades him from a charismatic, wise cracking pretty face to a remarkably talented actor. Not once during the entire duration of the picture does he lose focus or intensity. He keeps you right in the moment with everything that his character is experiencing. Every emotion that Conroy experiences is shared directly with the audience, there is no filter. From frantic fear, to paralyzed horror, to hopeful jubilation, Reynolds administers an array of emotional fluctuation that is 100% appropriate for his characters situation. If people didn’t already know Ryan Reynolds they may believe that they were watching a well-constructed snuff film. That’s how strong his performance is in this film. The audience actually believes he is fighting for his life.

However, the real star of this production may actually be Sparling’s script. He has taken a very real and socially relevant threat and presented it in a truly defining way. Despite the fact that this kind of thing really happens, Sparling explores the other side of terrorism – the domestic side. During the course of the picture Conroy is constantly reassured by Federal agencies of a lie about salvation, which is cleverly exposed in the end. Even the company that hired him to work in that area kicks him while he’s down in a way that is very easy to believe. If there is one weakness in the script [SPOILER WARNING] it is the fact that when given the chance to escape Conroy falters rather than embrace the opportunity. Towards the end of the film the area where he is buried gets bombed, loosening the soil and weakening the coffin. If he were to wrap his shirt around his face, so not to suffocate, and force his way out, he could have dug through the loose soil and saved himself rather than wait to be found or not. This is an inconsistency with the beginning of the film where Conroy attempts to force his way out of the coffin. No doubt the decision to keep him there until the end was not only for dramatic purposes. [END SPOILER WARNING] It also drove home the point that in these terrorist situations nobody wins. Taking that into consideration Buried could be regarded as a vehemently straightforward and honest anti-war film.

Buried is a lot of things, and first and foremost – it is not for the claustrophobic. If you can withstand the psychological connotations of the presentation you will be enlightened and enthralled by a small film with a big message and an unforgettable performance. Buried was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 18th, 2011.


  1. Great synopsis of a very intense and entertaining film.

  2. I watched Buried. It was fucking skeevy. I'm mad claustrophobic and I big out when I can't move. There were moments when I actually had to pause the movie for a sec or look away.

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