Spending 90 minutes watching nothing but Ryan Reynolds alone onscreen may not sound like your idea of a good time, but let me assure you, his new film, BURIED, which I saw while in Toronto, is an excellent high-concept suspense film that will keep you on the edge of your seat for its entirety. Director Rodrigo Cortez has crafted a one-man show that is smart, inventive, visually stunning and which, given his very literal constraints, allows the main actor room to turn in an impressive and completely unexpected performance.
Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, a truck driving contractor in Iraq who wakes up in total darkness, buried alive, with no idea how he is supposed to get out. When he comes to, the film begins, and for the first few minutes, we are all alone in the dark with only heavy breathing and panic setting in. Then, there's the sound of a Zippo, and a flicker of light. Flashes of the coffin and the person in it slowly come into focus for us once the lighter remains lit for a longer stretch of time. There is nothing but Paul, the coffin, the lighter, and a cell phone he discovers laying next to his body.
From this predicament, Paul tries every conceivable trick: calling his employers, calling his wife, calling the FBI, and each time he is met with further frustration. And then people actually start answering their phones and they are even less help than no answer would have been. The film plays with these moments a lot, with the bureaucracy of the situation showing through in a lot of them. How does an HR office worker react to a call about someone who works for them buried in a coffin? How about the hostage "negotiator" who is barred from contacting or negotiating with the "terrorists" who have captured the victim? These questions are mired in layer after layer of sweat and dirt as Paul maneuvers through them all.
Rodrigo Cortez's direction (he was also editor) is superb. During the Q&A in Toronto, he revealed that they actually built seven coffins to shoot in and around so they could get all of the angles - not entirely unlike the boxing rings built by Scorsese for RAGING BULL in order to provide different psychological mindsets - and it works to great effect. There's a particularly memorable shot looking down on Paul as the camera just lifts up and up and up, with the sides of the coffin rising for what seems like forever, which puts us right in the moment of helplessness and hopelessness that he's feeling right at that second, buried god-knows-how-far beneath the earth on top of him.
One last thing I loved about the movie: the lighting was all natural. No lighting rigs were used to illuminate the scene, only a lighter, cell phone or whatever else was being used in the scene at the time (Cortez did note that, sometimes, when the lighter was off-screen, they had three of them lit so they could generate enough light to make the shot effective. Still, the flickering is real, the darkness is real, and Ryan Reynolds effectively keeps us in suspense for the full run-time of the movie. BURIED is a high-concept one-man show that is entertaining and worthwhile.