A Conceptual Triumph, 20 October 2010
Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An incredibly difficult film to rate objectively and review. The story is that of Paul Conroy, played by Ryan Reynolds, whom we find entombed, in darkness, somewhere in Iraq, held hostage. This is a one-hander shot on a single set. The ultimate low budget conception. So you can forget cinematography, location and supporting actors. What you are left with is one man’s performance, a compelling story, excellent camera work (it has to be!) and THE question- will he escape? This is a Spanish made and financed film with distribution in Europe, Japan and the USA. I do not think this will be to American tastes. There is no big budget, no special effects, no chases and no shoot-outs. Furthermore, Reynolds’ claim that he is “just a truck driver” helping to reconstruct Iraq is shamelessly exposed to his captors riposte that the Americans shouldn’t have wrecked the country in the first place. The ambush and fire fight which resulted in his capture is mentioned but not shown – guaranteed to send Hollywood executives into apoplexy.
“Buried” takes its inspiration from cave-in and submarine disaster films of the past- and then ratchets up the tension to the maximum. You are alone, you don’t know where you are, you can barely see, you can barely move, you can barely breathe, and you are running out of air. The skill of the screenplay by Chris Sparling is that it identifies our dark primeval fears, and then plays them out through Reynolds. It is that Everyman connection which works.
Once the audience understands the situation, it then begs a subliminal challenge. How much drama can you get from a man in a box? The answer is plenty. As Reynolds starts to get to grips with his surroundings, so do we. A mobile phone whose charge is waning as Reynolds prospects wane, is his only contact with the outside world , to his would be rescuers, and his captors. But all we hear are their voices. And what he does hear is not good. His captors want an impossible ransom, his employers have sacked him due to an alleged affair negating insurance monies to his family, and contacting his family his family is fraught with problems. All we hear is voices, of hope, love, rejection, alienation, isolation and threat. We hear what Reynolds hears, we see what he sees, crucially we imagine what he imagines drawing us in.
Although well plotted, with skillful story development, the dialogue itself is workmanlike, rather than inspired. The scenario provided for inspiring monologues, instead we get staccato bursts of communication with the outside world. How intentional this is, is unclear. The advantage is that this depersonalises Reynolds and externalises his dilemma, the disadvantage is that we don’t really care about his fate as a person. Yet ironically neither do his employers, the kidnappers or maybe even the rescuers. He really is on his own.
What defines “Buried” is the courage of the film makers to have an idea, and see it through. It must have been so tempting to introduce some exterior shots and to show some flashbacks to ease the claustrophobia. They didn’t. Artistically that is brave and pays dividends. All were wisely eschewed in favour of the stark, austere but pure compelling vision which makes this film such a success – on its own terms.