Thursday, October 14, 2010

Buried - Theatrical Review

Release Date: September 24, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block
Time: 5:15 pm - Monday October 11th
Screen Type: Digital

Loves: Single location movies
Likes: Ryan Reynolds
Hates:  Confined spaces (in real life that is)

There have been a good number of movies that take a single location and build an entire story around it. Not all have been successful due to the constraints (no pun intended) of building a narrative around a single location. But the ones that have are usually genre defining and are completely unique. Take for instance these examples; 1997's Cube which took place entirely within a single cube, 2002's Panic Room which took place within a New York condo, 2003's Open Water where the two leads are adrift in an open ocean the entire time, and more recently with Moon where a man is stuck at an outpost located on the moon for the length of the film. I believe that Rodrigo Cortes's Buried takes the idea of a single location to its logical conclusion...a man stuck in a box buried under ground for the entire film. I don't think you can find a more claustrophobic single location if you tried.

Of course most movies (the less successful ones) can never find a way to keep us in that one location for the entire length of the film. You almost always end up seeing the people on the outside trying to locate the people or person that is locked away or missing. Well I am very happy to report that Buried never does this, you are with Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), the man in the box, the entire time. You are there even for the more mundane situations he finds himself in and by doing this it only adds to the tension and frustration of Paul's situation. You end up feeling trapped inside that coffin with him and if you are like me and hate confined places then this movie will drive you crazy, but I think that was the effect Cortes was going for here.

Paul trying to figure out how to grab that bag.
 And if indeed those were the emotions he was attempting to evoke then he succeeded brilliantly.  The small amount of wiggle room that Paul has in the coffin isn't the only thing used to make you feel uneasy, the way the lighting is handled is used to single out many different reactions as well. Whenever Paul has an idea he scurries to light his zippo but you know the light he gains also takes away his air supply so while you are excited for him you are also aware he is shortening his life span each time he flicks on that lighter. He comes across other means of lighting as well, the main item being a cell phone that is not his but is mysteriously left in the coffin with him. Every time that cell phone either vibrates or rings from an incoming call it never failed to shake me out of the trance the film had put me in.

Now, I have been purposely vague about story specifics because much of the suspense found in the film is the sense of discovery you get as you find out things as Paul does. What I can tell you is that the movie opens with a completely dark screen with no sound (after the interesting opening credits that is). What I found amusing about this is the reaction from other audience members, one of which stated to her friend "Why is nothing happening". The black screen is lingered on for about a good minute or two with almost no sound and you eventually start to hear rustling and some breathing. Soon that silence turns into rampant shuffling with a muffled voice and then all of a sudden there is light.

Paul sees something at his feet that has him a little worried.
You see that Paul has been bound and gagged and has a pretty serious head injury. It takes him a while to get out of his constraints but when he finally does the rest of the film becomes this journey of him trying to figure out what happened to him and him trying frantically to find any way out. It isn't too much to give away the fact that he finds a cell phone which provides his main source of information about what has happened and the central prop of the film. It is an exercise in extreme frustration when he begins calling people and experiencing every failure and success along with him. Anyone that has ever desperately needed to locate someone and couldn't will know exactly how he feels.

So, the atmosphere and concept work really well with how it effects the viewer but what about all the other pieces? Ryan Reynolds is THE only actor seen in the film. If you head on over to IMDB you will see that every other cast member is marked as (voice) only. Very few actors can be a leading man or woman in a film but it takes a special sort of actor to pull off a one man show from beginning to end and Reynolds proves once and for all that he is an amazing actor. The level and range of emotions he goes through is astounding as well as heartbreaking. There is one particular phone call he gets near the end of the film that just makes you want to strangle the person on the other end of the phone and he plays is perfectly. It is funny how actors that start out in comedy always turn in some of the best dramatic work.

Paul desperately trying to get in contact with someone that can help him.
And that comedy background comes in handy throughout the course of the film. While there is mostly a dire and grim veil covering the proceedings, there are at least a few moments of levity provided by Reynolds that only he could make work which are placed throughout the film in just the right spots. He is able to go from excited, to frustrated, to completely enraged and finally to a state of calm all within a few minutes. On top of that he is limited to only his facial expressions due to the confines of the box he is in. His tone of voice and facial expressions convey to you perfectly the state of mind this poor guy is in. In all honesty I cannot think of another actor that would do any better let alone as good a job as Ryan Reynolds does here. If there were any justice in the world he would be getting an Oscar nomination next year.

The movie has a running time of 1 hour and forty minutes...that is a long time to spend with someone in a small box. I had some doubts whether or not the filmmakers could conjure up enough situations to put our tortured soul through while still retaining a sense of believability. I am happy to report that this doubt was unfounded because I never once had that thought at the back of my head that creeps up and says "there is no way I would have done that" or "why didn't you do this instead". Every action that Paul takes is a completely logical one considering what he is given to work with and the amount of time he has. As a matter of fact the movie went by so quick that I don't think it even felt as long as it actually was and I can think of no higher praise than that. So if you had any reservations about seeing it because of that same doubt, worry not cause it is captivating from beginning to end.

Ever heard of a life or death call?...well this is it.
I haven't talked much about the sound yet either which is used immensely well. I mentioned how either the flick of the zippo lighter or the ring of the phone is used to great effect to alert and jolt us but the sound is used in more subtle ways as well. The muffled voices or vehicle sounds that Paul hears above ground is just clear enough to let us know he isn't buried very deep which only serves to build the frustration of his plight. The scratches made by the pencil as he etches phone numbers into the wood coffin or the sound of the sand pouring in constantly reminding us that death is imminent. The music was surprisingly effective as well, one would think it would be a more subdued soundtrack given the circumstances but it can get quite boisterous at times.

If I had to label any complaints towards the film it would have to do with a fake out near the end that, while effective, punishes the audience more than what was needed. We have already seen this poor guy go through hell and the last thing we need is to have the rug pulled out from under us when we have become so invested in what is going on. But that's it, I have had a few days to let the movie settle and nothing else really jumps out at me. That being said though, this movie isn't for everyone. Like I mentioned earlier, if you are claustrophobic you may go a little stir crazy while watching it and even though it moves fast, anyone looking for an action thriller need not apply. However, if you are shopping around for a taut, intense, and finely tuned thriller I can't recommend it enough. With this being his first feature length film as a director, Rodrigo Cortes is a name to keep a look out for in the future cause he has a bright one ahead of him.



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