Proof that variety isn't always important to a film, Buried is one of the best one-actor, one-location films I've seen. In fact, it's pretty remarkable how engaging this film is. I've been bored in movies with epic locations, a large cast, sweeping helicopter shots, and production value in the high heavens. However, director Rodrigo Cortes and lead actor Ryan Reynolds, show us what really makes a compelling story.
Paul, a U.S. contractor in Iraq, wakes up inside of a coffin, not sure how or why he was put there. Armed with a cell phone and a lighter, he begins a desperate hunt for clues that might help him find his way out. More and more information is revealed through phone conversations, as Paul attempts to contact friends and family, as well as the government. Battling with bureaucracies, impatient people, and inaction, he knows that time is running out.
"Broccoli for dinner was a bad idea."
Ryan Reynold's totally sells this role. We are right there with him in his frustration, gasping at the idea of being put on hold with elevator music while he's lying in a wooden box under the ground. We also sympathize with him as he loses his temper at the people on the phone, who clearly don't want to be bothered with his problem. Reynolds manages to pull of some snarky humor as well, which is much appreciated in such a dire film.
I still can't decide who makes the movie more watchable: Reynolds or Cortes. The director manages to provide constant visual interest, despite the obvious limitations. Of course, on occasion, the camera travels outside of the confines of the coffin. However, this is only done to punctuate certain moments, such as the isolation and desperation Paul feels, as the camera pulls back to his body trapped inside a box surrounded by endless darkness. Most of the time, the camera placement communicates the stuffy, claustrophobic atmosphere extraordinarily well. Additionally, cinematographer Eduard Grau provides interest through lens variation and changes in color.
"The rave should be around here somewhere."
Another credit must be given to the writer, Chris Sparling. Sparling squeezes character development, subtext, and intrigue out of every phone conversation. It's no easy task to tell a story through a cell phone. Yet, one of my complaints about the story also comes from the script. In the trailers, the film is sold as one that takes several twists and turns. This isn't really the case. It's actually more straightforward. I think Sparling could have taken advantage of Paul's mistrust of the government more. There are moments where Paul asks questions that make you think something more complex is occurring, but this never fully materializes. In the end, he's just a dude that was randomly put in a box for ransom.
My other major point of contention is the film's conclusion. Staying true to the one-location concept, we never end up leaving the coffin. And of course, that means Paul never makes it out either. While his final conversation with his wife is heartbreaking, it all feels too senseless. Yes, a real world exists, I know. I understand that most violence is rather senseless and that the good guy doesn't always survive. However, I felt cheated. His death doesn't add anything to the themes of the story; it only pissed me off and made me wonder why I watched the movie to begin with. I don't want to see a movie about a guy buried alive who doesn't make it out; I want to see the incredible story of a guy buried alive who uses every resource at his disposal to find a way out. That's the interesting story ...to me at least.
I've had nightmares that start this way.
I do recommend Buried, even if I have a few issues with the story and the ending. It's a unique film, with a genius low-budget concept. It's also a good lesson for any filmmaker to see how little is needed to tell an engaging tale.