Can you hear me now?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/01/2010
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
Cast: Ryan Reynolds

With the advent of big screen, high definition televisions, going out to a movie theater has lost a little bit of its cachet. While 3D is Hollywood’s latest attempt to restore that gap in experiences, one crucial element that gets a little lost is the notion that audiences are trapped in a dark room, with no other stimuli to distract them from the movie (aside from the amazing parents who think their four year-old should see the latest “Saw” film).

In “Buried”, Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a coffin with a cell phone, lighter and little else; and spends the next hour and half trying to find out who put him there and why, while hoping that someone will find him before his air runs out. Being inside an air conditioned theater is a far cry from that predicament but it helps the experience of seeing the film because you’re not at home, able to pause the DVD while you make a snack or go to the bathroom. Within the theater, the audience is inside the box with Reynolds.

To their credit, director Rodrigo Cortés and screenwriter Chris Sparling keep the entire film inside the coffin. They don’t cheat out to the real world when Reynolds is on the phone, desperately hoping for rescue. While I never felt claustrophobic, as the camera sometimes panned out too far for me to fully feel closed in, there were definitely moments where that coffin felt too close for comfort.

For his part, as the only actor on-screen, Reynolds does a solid job. It’s remarkably hard to carry off a one man show and actors will always mention that their performances are supported by the other actors around them. Think of the “acting” that often results from actors put into a CGI environment and forced to react to imaginary monsters, robots and aliens; which is why many directors utilize a host of different methods to give the actors something tangible to play off of, whether it’s a tennis ball or a person sewn up inside a green bodysuit for computers to digitally remove later.

Along with Reynolds, what works remarkably well is the sense of frustration he encounters when trying to reach someone who has the capability to help him. As a civilian contractor in Iraq, all he can assume is that he’s been buried someone in the Iraqi desert, possibly somewhere near where his convoy of trucks delivering kitchen supplies was ambushed. In conversations with the state department, the FBI, a hostage rescue specialist and his own employer, Reynolds is often unable to contain his boiling emotions as his ordeal unfolds; and in our attempt to empathize, the audience also wants to throttle the disembodied voices from time to time.

While the premise of the film is a good one and Reynolds pulls off his end of the equation, there are some negatives to the project. There are clearly a number of scenes that could have been edited out with no consequence to the story but in doing so, would relegate this to being a short film, rather than feature length. Although I was never bored, when these scenes would come up I lost a bit of my focus as I would wonder at the necessity of them. The film also suffers from multiple ending syndrome, with at least two good possible stopping points prior to the actual resolution.

Perhaps the biggest problem stems from a score that doesn’t seem to realize that when trapped in a box, while watching a movie about being trapped in a box, audiences don’t need an insanely overblown score. The tension inside the coffin is enough for us to understand, we don’t need a cacophony of strings and brass to dictate our emotional state.

Ultimately, it’s also hard to determine exactly what demographic I would recommend the film to; as this is probably a bit too much for mainstream audiences (once the credits began to roll, the screening audience grumbled loudly and even sent out a few boos). However, don’t take that to mean the film was bad, just that it didn’t nicely conform to the traditional escapist fare that many audiences are looking for (though there’s nothing inherently wrong with that). This being a Ryan Reynolds film, it’s also a departure from his normal wise-cracking self, a persona that has propelled him to A-list status.

A 3.5 out of 5, “Buried” benefits from its engaging premise and quality performance by Reynolds and I think that independent and foreign film fans may be the best audience to market this towards (this is in English but foreign films don’t always follow the Hollywood formula many audiences require). In talking with another critic after the show, she mentioned horror fans would be a good target as well, because they don’t want the same conventions applied to films over and over again – which makes sense. So if you’re in those categories, I’d say this might be worth the time and money to see in theaters. Waiting for it to hit the home market, you’re detracting from the experience of being in a box with Reynolds (and some of my friends want that experience literally).