Friday, September 24, 2010
Movie review: Buried
Minimalist filmmaking at its most minimal. (We're talking one actor and a 4' x 8' set.)
If Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés' claustrophobic thriller Buried were to be considered for acting award nominations, there'd be no difficulty defining the "supporting" vs. "lead" categories: actor Ryan Reynolds is the only person to appear onscreen.
(I'm not saying any such nominations will be in the offing, mind you — just making a point.)
In the first few moments of the film, in fact, no one gets screentime, because the screen is totally dark. It's edgy, more or less the equivalent of dead air on the radio.
After a lot of scrabbling noise, some head-banging ("Ouch!"), and heavy breathing — there is a LOT of heavy breathing in this movie — a lighter's flint wheel sparks fire onto a wick, and we observe the startled visage of Reynolds (playing a character named Paul Conroy) as he holds the flame aloft to discover that — OH NO! — he's confined to a rough wooden box of some sort, with just enough room for him to move his arms and legs and, with a bit of contortion, extract items from his pockets.
Such as the cell phone that begins to buzz a few minutes into the proceedings, serving thereafter as Paul Conroy's only link to the world outside and above-ground. For Conroy has been, it turns out, buried in a rather-more-spacious-than-usual coffin somewhere in the vast desert landscape that is Iraq.
This is minimalist filmmaking at its most minimal, with cinematographer Eduard Grau never verging beyond the confines of the 4' x 8' set in which the increasingly desperate Paul Conroy finds himself. (Well, make that almost never. On a couple of occasions, we get a backing off view of Conroy as the virtual camera rises up into the dark dirt above him, looking down. It's an odd directorial choice, because it diminishes the claustrophobic feel of the piece — letting us off the hook, as it were.)
We experience extreme close-ups of Conroy's tormented features from an impressive variety of angles, as he makes calls (while the battery strength gradually diminishes) to everyone from his wife back in the U.S. (he gets her answering machine), to the contracting company that employs him (he's a long-haul trucker), to the enterprising Iraqis who buried him alive in the hope of extracting millions of dollars in ransom from his government and/or corporate employers.
As Conroy quickly discovers, there are more considerations at play among his assumed allies than just the simple expedient of getting him out of the ground and breathing fresh air again. Plus, he discovers that he might not be the first foreign national to be ransomed in this fashion...
Speaking of breathing fresh air: we operate with the understanding throughout this more-or-less real-time 90-minute drama that Conroy has only so much oxygen at his disposal — so it seems odd that he makes such frequent use of the (amazingly well-fueled) Zippo, whose flame never seems to diminish or grow weaker over the entire course of the film. He even goes so far as to set a raging fire in the foot of the coffin at one point, and though he has quite a good reason for doing so, we still marvel at the fact that the flames burn so fiercely and that smoke seems not to accumulate.
In a fit of maddening ridiculousness near the end, Conroy spends precious phone time talking through what amounts to an exit interview with his above-ground employers, whom we imagine to be sitting in the air conditioned comfort of their glass-windowed offices back in Peoria or wherever. Good God, man, JUST HANG UP on the bastards and have another go at that State Department functionary who might be able to save your stupid ass!
Reynolds performs admirably as a guy going through the stages of dealing with life-threatening trauma. In his case, it goes something like fear, anger, hope, denial, and acceptance. Though most of the time he's coming down heavily on the anger side of things. (And who can blame him, given the failure of nearly everyone he talks to grasp the seriousness of his situation?)
There's a nice twist ending at work which may or may not leave open the possibility of Conroy getting out of this premature burial jam alive. And that's all I'm saying.
WELL, THAT NARROWS IT DOWN: "Can you tell me your location?" - 911 operator
"I'm in a coffin." - Paul Conroy
SEEMS PRETTY CONTAINED TO ME: "It's important to keep this situation as contained as possible." - contracting company personnel director