03 October 2010
Buried is a thriller not ashamed to admit its references and riff on past masters to tell an encredibly tense and engaging story. On the surface, this should not go past the pitching stage. Even if it did, it should not go beyond a short film. It does with very good results.
Ryan Reynold’s Paul Conroy wakes up in a coffin, buried a few feet underground, with a messed up Blackberry and his zippo lighter. From very early on (which is a genius move), we find out that he is a truck driver for a private contractor in Iraq. He frantically calls his family, employers, FBI, even 911 - but no one really believes him, or else they do not comprehend his desperation. He also juggles between his futile efforts to galvanise anyone to help him and his sadistic captors, who want “5 million money” in 2 hours, or they will leave him buried.
There are some nice touches in contextualising the whole thing with the war in Iraq - and thankfully there are no liberal proselytizing or conservative gung-ho machoism here. This is just a man trapped in the confines (literally) of his time. Financially strapped, he takes this incredibly dangerous job to ensure his little son and wife live a comfortable life back at home. This makes it even harder to take sides.
His hostage-finder guy (who is hilariously a Brit) tells him that the people who kidnapped him are just criminals and that anybody would do this if they were in the same situation. This is further emphasised when Paul’s captor tells him that he was not responsible for Saddam, but he is paying the price for it. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bad guys are the military and the private contractors who turned Iraq more of a war zone it already is. This is shown in one of the most hilarious and disturbing scenes of this year, when Paul’s employers absolve themselves from all responibility, as sand pours down through the cracks of the coffin.
The film occasionally runs the risk of running out of ideas, but Chris Sparling’s script and Ricardo Cortes’s direction manage to pull one trick after another. Another great set piece (and one not for the faint-hearted) is when Paul wakes up from a little nap of exhaustion to find that he has another companion in the coffin with him. Although there are a couple of hints of this encounter given early on, I have tried very hard not to avert my eyes. My favourite scene of the year.
All this goodness, sadly, ebbs at the finale, when the influences drown out all the originality that Cortes’s film has shown throughout. It is a fitting ending to the story, but not to the film.
This little issue aside, Buried is a very solid thriller that will stay with you long after the credits roll. If for nothing else, it is worth to watch for its Saul Bass-inspired opening credits. Not since Catch Me If You Can has there been a more engaging animated opening sequence that riffs on the thrillers of the years of old. Reynolds has an incredibly performance that could have easily turned into parody. Stop giving this guy silly action films and rom-coms - there is a real talent here.
And I have not even mentioned “claustrophobia” and its variants once. Well, except now.