Buried - Ryan Reynolds

Green lightThe idea probably germinated during some kind of drunken haze – an early morning gamble involving inebriated filmmakers who could no longer maintain the brain activity required to play another hand. Conversation must have turned to the cinema. Blearily recalling single setting thrillers such as Cube (1997), Phone Booth (2002) and perhaps even Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944), the parties involved put down the bottle and “brain stormed” the concept behind Buried.

“Bet ya can’t make an entire movie based in a coffin!”

“A hundred big ones says I can. I’ll take that bet and raise you a Ryan Reynolds.”

And so it came to be.

Just like good naked and bad naked, there is close and too close, and director Rodrigo Cortés’ sweaty thriller boldly crusades right off the cliff of the later.

The set of this taught 93-minute journey to the extremities of cinematic claustrophobia could hardly get any more contained. It would be remarkable if another film got any closer to the “action”, if watching a sweat lathered Ryan Reynolds lying down for an hour and a hour could be described as such.

Cortés kicks off with a good old-fashioned black screen. It goes on and on and on, and just at the point at which some bozo in the audience stands up to move towards the door, prepared to hurl abuse at the kid at the candy bar, a flash of light strikes and the movie’s micro mise en scene is finally revealed.

Paul Conroy (Reynolds), a truck driver stationed in Iraq, is trapped inside a buried coffin. There’s no chance of getting out and no chance anyone will hear him. In space no one can hear your screams; ditto for when you’re underground surrounded by dirt. Paul discovers he has a zippo lighter and, erm, that’s about it. Then a mobile phone rings.

The publicist at a Melbourne press screening politely asked the audience not to reveal the film’s high concept ending. If Buried’s rousingly minimalistic trailer hadn’t sufficiently spiked our interest, that was enough to kick it into gear.

Paul spends most of the movie mumbling to himself or on the phone talking to people who may or may not be able to help him, erring towards the former. The story is based in 2006, which means he isn’t using an iPhone – probably for the best given their notoriously poor battle life would have either halved the running time or required audiences to suspend disbelief well beyond reasonable expectations.

No more ought to be divulged about the story. Given the paucity of locations, the dialogue will largely escort the viewer view through the film, and though there is not much room for literal twists and turns Cortés has a few tucked up his sleeve.

What’s Ryan Reynolds like? The cameras are so close to him it’s actually difficult to gauge. It’s clear however that his flustered and squeamish nowhere-to-hide performance is Reynolds’ best, even if by definition he was lying down on the job.

Despite a slight dip at around the midway point Cortés keeps the tension at a good level throughout. He cheats the spatial limitations by allowing the cameras to go “outside” the coffin, as if they were able to move freely around in the dirt and spy through the thin wooden walls. These shots have the effect of reminding us that we’re watching a movie but are stylistically sound, borderline flashy.

Buried misses a special spark, a dramatic oomph that might have kicked it into “must see” territory. It remains however a classy piece of work, a condense thriller that takes an arguably silly concept and shapes it into a tense and sweaty ride, even if the roller coaster carriage goes – at least geographically speaking – absolutely nowhere.

Cortés’ best achievement is to seriously up the ante for single setting thrillers. The next time inebriated filmmakers with a fondness for the genre get together for a middle of the night drunken dare, the challenge ought to be to make a film more confined than this one.

Buried’s Australian theatrical release date: October 7, 2010.