As close to being buried alive as you'd want to get ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, October 24, 2010

As close to being buried alive as you'd want to get

My rating:

I am mildly claustrophobic. I became aware of this fact just a few years ago, when I visited the Củ Chi Tunnels during a holiday in Vietnam. There was a short circuit of tunnels that the guide brought me through, and I chickened out of it two-thirds of the way through. (Also, I feel slightly uneasy whenever I take the SMART tunnel.) It was therefore with some trepidation that I went to watch this movie, knowing that it takes place entirely within the confines of a coffin. I was even worried about watching it with a rushed meal of Ipoh hor fun that I had but 20 minutes to finish before showtime sitting in my stomach.

It was bearable. But man it was intense.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has been buried alive. He works for a civilian contractor in Iraq, his convoy was ambushed by insurgents, and he has just regained consciousness and found himself in a wooden coffin that's been buried in the desert. All he has is a lighter, a cellphone and a few other items his captors left him, and he must use the phone to call whoever he can - his wife Linda (Samantha Mathis), his employers (Stephen Tobolowsky), his wife's friend Donna (Warner Loughlin), a man named Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) who represents what slim hope he has of rescue, and even his kidnapper (José Luis García Pérez).

You have to respect director Rodrigo Cortés' and screenwriter Chris Sparling's uncompromising approach to their concept. It's true, there isn't a single scene that doesn't take place inside the coffin; no "8 Hours Ago", "2 Days Ago" or anything like that. In fact, the film actually begins with a pitch-black screen for a full minute, with only the sounds of Conroy waking up and realizing the horror of where he is. The only actor on screen is Ryan Reynolds; the other names I mentioned in the synopsis appear only as voices on his phone. Despite this, there's plenty of action and nail-biting tension. (I've seen comments on calling it "boring", and I don't think they could be more wrong.)

Cortés is getting all the credit here, and it is not undeserved; there's a lot of very skilled camerawork and lighting on display here, and there's no shortage of imaginative angles he can find to film the action. But it's Sparling who came up with the original concept, and it's his script that ingeniously fleshes it out to a full-length film. It very cleverly fills in the backstory without resorting to flashbacks; everything from how Conroy got kidnapped, to his relationships with his wife, his wife's friend, his coworkers, and his mother. And all this without even any on-the-nose dialogue. Except that besides telling a harrowing tale of a man who's been buried alive, Sparling also has some pointed jabs to make about how institutions - private and government - betray the trust of the little guy.

And here's where the SPOILER ALERT begins (seriously, don't highlight the following until after you've seen it): There's no getting around it, that's a pretty unsatisfying ending. I can understand why Sparling and Cortés did it that way - but you can't spend 1-½ hours in the company of a man trapped in a coffin and not dearly hope that he gets rescued. The fact that the film doesn't give him this means they were more keen on staying faithful to their premise, and to their agenda of criticising the Iraq war, than in giving their viewers a satisfying experience. The audience at my screening were all going "WTF?" at the end, and I had to sympathize; I think the movie could've done better, both in terms of box-office and word-of-mouth, with a different ending.

Few actors would relish the prospect of a film in which they are the sole performer, reacting to nothing but voices on the other end of a phone. But Reynolds is very good in this; it's not a role that requires a lot of skill, but it is certainly an intensely demanding one, both physically and emotionally, and he carried it very well. The man's having a great career right now - former sitcom actor now getting a wide range of matinee lead roles that showcase his boundless screen presence (but not anything that's beyond his range - yet). The actors who appear only as voices provide able support as well; the standout is the excellent Stephen Tobolowsky, whom I didn't know was in this till I saw the credits. Describing his character would be another spoiler, so suffice to say he definitely makes an impression.

Be warned, folks - this is not a pleasant film. If your fear of confined spaces is greater than mine (which, despite the thing with the SMART tunnel, isn't really that bad), I'd advise catching it on DVD. Nor is this a usual film. If you've been hearing people griping about it, it's because they saw something they weren't expecting - so manage your expectations accordingly, and you'll be able to appreciate a terrific premise, brilliantly executed by director and writer and lead actor. Buried is 94 minutes of sustained terror, claustrophobia and despair. That's not an easy film to like, but it's an achievement that deserves much respect.

NEXT REVIEW: Reign of Assassins
Expectations: John Woo, don't let me down


k0k s3n w4i said...


oh wow. some of the comments over at are super depressing.

this movie needs to be seen in a big, chilly, lightless theatre if you ask me. dvd will not do it justice.

big fan of stephen tobolowsky here. knew he's in it when he talked about it in his podcast (best podcast in the world, btw).

i felt that the ending was perfect. absolutely perfect. i'd probably have hated it if it ended any other way. it'd have made more money, but the creators would also have to compromise on their vision. i consider this film to be a study of human nature above its thriller and war flick premise.

i will remember mark white now. in the same way i remember sammy jankis. these names haunt me.

Pure Raver said...

I'm gonna agree with Kok over here. The ending was perfect and I don't believe the other way around it would've been better. In fact, the director was toying with us in the very end. He's in control of the movie, not us. That's saying a whole lot. Especially when studios don't get mixed in.

TheBentPencil said...

oh, I missed this post! i was waiting for it because I watched it. anyway, what I love is that the fact that they have this critism to the US government and American society in general--you know, the fact the army guy was lying to him all the time, the company that cheated him out of the contract at the last minute, and that conversation with his mom whom he had left in an old folks home--so sad...

and the things i hate. really, it had me laughing. first, the ACCENT of the arab is CLEARLY mexican. I mean we have Arabs all over the world, takkan la sekor actor yang tak payah tunjuk muka pun tak pandai impersonate Arab accent? i laughed everytime he said MUNEY(money).

and also ryan reynolds. I'm sorry, I knew him from comedy movies. so it just doesnt feel right. It's like watching Lan Pet Pet doing cerekarama malam sabtu. you know, those sappy ones where anak derhaka kena hukum dengan tuhan.