Making a 90 minute movie about a man trapped in a box is easy. Making it watchable is hard. Director Rodrigo Cortes makes Buried very watchable, despite the camera never once leaving Ryan Reynolds as he’s trapped in a coffin buried in the Iraqi desert. Sadly the script by Chris Sparling never makes Reynolds’ Paul Conroy into a character whose tribulations I actually care about in any fashion at all.
It’s important to really take a moment to praise the film for working as well as it does; yeah, it’s a gimmick, but so is 3D. And it’s a gimmick that could have easily turned Buried into a slog, a boring piece of shit. It certainly isn’t that – but it is a fairly mediocre, nothing of a movie. Which is why it’s important to praise the film up front, because now I’m going to bury it.
I usually like Ryan Reynolds. There’s an affability about him, which is why he’s almost a movie star (and may be a real one after Green Lantern). But that affability isn’t present here. Part of the fault lies with the script, which keeps making Conroy get really mad at people he’s talking with on the phone. See, Conroy’s a civilian contractor truck driver, and his convoy was ambushed and he is being held for ransom. The kidnapper has left Conroy a cell phone as well as a couple of supplies, like his anti-anxiety meds, glow sticks, a Zippo and a flashlight. The film opens in pitch blackness, and after a couple of minutes of Conroy freaking out he begins making frantic phone calls. The people on the other end of the line usually have no real understanding of the enormity of the situation and Conroy just keeps yelling at them. At one point he calls a woman (family friend? Sister? I’m not sure) to get the number of the State Department (he calls 411 another time, not sure why he doesn’t do it in this moment) and when she gives him a hard time he screams at her until she hangs up. Then he calls back and tells her he doesn’t have time to explain, which is dumb because he certainly doesn’t have time to keep getting hung up on and screaming cunt at her on the phone.
So Paul Conroy annoys. Which is a problem when the whole movie is just shots of him inside a box. All of Cortes’ excellent camerawork can’t hide the fact that the guy comes across as sort of an asshole.
The movie plays with different potential twists, keeping you guessing as to what the real situation and what the outcome might possibly be right up until the last moments of the film. It works, as it’s the only real possible tension in the film (as the movie is selling itself as Ryan Reynolds in a box for 90 minutes you know he can’t possibly die 20 minutes in. Or get out of the box and do something more interesting, for that matter). Some of these potential twists make you think the film will be getting political, but Buried isn’t really interested in making any grand statements (unless it’s just a super on the nose defense of the private contractors in Iraq), which is okay… except for the ending.
And here’s where I would have to get into spoiler territory. I’ve gone back and forth all day on whether or not to write up the ending (in a well-marked fashion to warn spoilerphobes) so as to explain what I really hate about it, but for now I won’t go into it. If the response to this review indicates that people really want me to discuss this, I will, but for now I’m taking the safer and more respectful road. While I’m not a fan of the film I don’t think it’s fair to give away the ending on the night after it was bought by Lionsgate.
Here’s what I will say: I think the ending is cheap. While I liked what the film’s final ‘twist’ was, I thought that the last moments of the movie were truly cheap and kind of pointless. I get why the movie ends the way it does, and I respect that ending conceptually, but I think the way it plays out is lame.
Even if the ending of Buried had worked for me I still wouldn’t have liked the film that much. So while I can’t actually recommend the movie in any meaningful way, I do think it’s a film worth catching at some point just to see how the central gimmick is pulled off with real panache. Or you could rent Phone Booth, which is just a better film all around.
6 out of 10