Friday, January 21, 2011

Buried (Rodrigo Cortes, 2010)

Buried is a technical marvel. Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driver who's taken a contract in Iraq. He wakes up buried in a coffin with a lighter and a cellphone. And then, if you can believe it, things get worse. 

This is an entire feature length film, clocking in at right around ninety minutes, during which every single shot takes place in the coffin. It's a testament to director Rodrigo Cortes talent and imagination that even under those constraints, the film is never, for even one second, boring. I don't think it would be giving too much of the plot away to say that during the course of the film, Conroy finds he has also been buried with two of the large, industrial variety glow sticks and a flashlight. The changes in lighting, due to the different light sources help the keep the image interesting, but even that doesn't do justice to the genius Cortes brings to the table. There is a fluidity to the camera work that is gives the film an extremely dynamic feel while always keeping the integrity of the narrative foremost. I can only describe it as a feat of engineering and architecture. This should be something that comes across very much like a student film, but instead it comes across like the kind of grand experiments Hitchcock executed with Rope, Rear Window and Lifeboat.

Another thing that has to be mentioned is the fact that Ryan Reynolds is the only actor who is actually in the film. He is absolutely convincing as Paul Conroy, a man trapped in a coffin, somewhere in Iraq, who is desperately, frantically trying to find someone on the other end of that cellphone who can help save him. The thing which has helped to make Ryan Reynolds popular has been his ability to play everyman in relatively lighthearted, sometimes juvenile comedies. Here, that same trait, talent, characteristic or however you'd refer to it, comes to have much fuller expression in a much more dramatic and meaningful performance. He does a great job with this character and gives a performance that will probably open doors to a variety of characters he wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to play. His terror, frustration, exhaustion and bewilderment are contagious as he attempts to get himself out of the situation he's woken up in. I have to say that I was honestly surprised by how well he carries this off. I haven't actively disliked Ryan Reynolds to this point, but I haven't really given him much credit for being a pretty talented young actor, and he is just that. If becoming a "movie star"doesn't get in the way, he might actually become a great actor.

I really enjoyed this movie, and spent a good deal of it being blown away by the kind of virtuosity it effortlessly displays. Though I think it's a very good movie, there are one or two beats in the script I found a touch on the ham handed side. There's a situation and conversation between Conroy and the company which has hired him to go to Iraq and drive a truck which just comes across a little too much. I don't think it's an implausible situation, at all, but I do think the timing and the nature of the conversation feel like they've been thrown in specifically to either make a point or to drive home even more forcefully that even as he's stuck in a coffin, in the middle of the desert, things are still getting worse for Paul.

If it weren't already taken, an alternate title for this film could very easily be "Do You Like Hitchcock?"(had the name not been used already). It definitely comes across as a film that is heavily influenced by the Master of Suspense, an homage to him, and an attempt to keep the kind of film making which he spent his career dedicated to alive and well and a part of the film going consciousness. Luckily for movie lovers, even as it is so heavily influenced by Hitchcock, it also never comes off as being a cheap imitation. It's definitely it's own film, with it's own style, but it's obvious the film makers know the Masters films through and through.

The other thing about Buried that is particularly striking is that for a film completely encapsulated in such confined quarters, it doesn't evoke a sense of claustrophobia, but instead the sensation of falling, which for the story, actually makes more sense. I didn't immediately zero in on that until a few hours after I'd seen it, but it begins feeling very claustrophobic and then because of it's pace, it's dynamic camera work and Ryan Reynolds performance, it moves quickly toward the kind of out of control feeling that can only be called free fall. 

The only other problem I have with Buried is related to the score. It's not a bad score, but it is pretty typical and somewhat clichéd. For a film as innovative and unique as this one, a score equally unique would add something extra to it. Luckily, it doesn't overpower the film and stays away from swelling string flourishes, and the editor was smart enough to keep the score toned down and in the background. Composer Victor Reyes may be extremely talented, and he may even have a long future ahead of him in scoring films, but those things aren't at all evident here.

If you're a Hitchcock fan, you should check this one out. If you're a Ryan Reynolds fan, you should check this film out. If you can appreciate technical mastery that doesn't involve pyrotechnics, then you should give this film a shot. The only people I don't think will appreciate this film at all are those who either don't like movies at all or only really like the direct to DVD Steven Siegal films. 

Rodrigo Cortes is a film maker who seems to have a bright future ahead of him, and with another success like this under his belt, we may get the opportunity to see him extend what seems to be a formidable imagination to it's fullest extent.

Grab copies of Buried, Rope, Rear Window, Lifeboat, and Do You Like Hitchcock? on Amazon, if you are so inclined. 

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