In Buried (2010) Ryan Reynolds had to think his way outside the box.

by Paul Deeter

In the 2000's our now favorite "merc with the mouth" was not much more than a small-time comedian, with roles including the incredibly forgettable film Waiting... (2005) and 2007's slight but charming rom-com Definitely, Maybe. Ryan Reynolds was far from the superstar he is today: a man who can add millions of dollars to a grossing picture by name alone. I mean basically unfranchisable features outside of his superhero flicks like the abhorrent The Hitman's Bodyguard. Even by vocal performance alone his personality shines through as our electric childhood idol in Detective Pikachu. Suffice it to say Reynolds never came back from career suicide like Robert Downey Jr, but his glow up is nonetheless quite impressive. He even managed to get a second chance at the character of Wade Wilson, when the impossibly boring X-Men Origins: Wolverine completely under utilized his talents. Deadpool was the 2016 comeback fans wanted, complete with an R rating and the comedic stylings of Reynolds. It showed that Reynolds could not only carry a hit leading role, but could balance the film's drama as equally as its comedy. But comedy fans knew that his strong suit was handsome charm, but not too many viewers were fully aware that he had it in him to carry a serious lead as well.

That is, outside of fans of Rodrigo Cortes' 2010 knockout thriller Buried. Is there ever a more limiting gamble to a film concept: a man tries to smart his way out of being buried alive in a coffin, with the claustrophobic setting never leaving said coffin? I certainly can't think of too many major releases that have taken on such a risk. But what added to the risk was depending on an actor who at least on camera is the only face of the 90+ minute feature. And that actor was comedian and rom-com charmer Ryan Reynolds. Rodrigo Cortes was a well acclaimed Spanish writer/director who's work with the short film narrative gaining him a spotlight from a young age. In 2007, The Contestant was released to great reviews and a critical following, establishing his name by 2010, when he would direct his biggest picture to date. Buried establishes itself in the "survival film" genre, sitting a bit undershadowed to Danny Boyle's 127 Hours of the same year. However daring it was to make a film with the majority of the location putting its lead (James Franco) between a rock and a hard place, Buried ups the ante by never leaving its claustrophobic setting. It's no surprise that Cortes claims his biggest inspiration is by the godfather of thriller cinema: Alfred Hitchcock (specifically his one-take feature Rope.)

To dust up on some slightly obscure Hitchcock history, Rope is not one of his most acclaimed pictures, but would fall into a subcategory of films he made that played with the basic conventions of film production and turn things up a notch for unsuspecting viewers:

"The film is one of Hitchcock's most experimental and "one of the most interesting experiments ever attempted by a major director working with big box-office names" abandoning many standard film techniques to allow for the long unbroken scenes. Each shot ran continuously for up to ten minutes (the camera's film capacity) without interruption...Camera moves were carefully planned and there was almost no editing."

Today's influx of non-conventional thrillers are more risk taking because audiences are perhaps a bit more jaded to the idea of a traditional whodunnit. Films that try the Rope technique of the single-shot style of filming are more or less cheated with clever editing and camera transitions. Alejandro González Iñárritu rightfully wowed audiences with his 2014 head-trip Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), including using the effect of the single tracking-shot to follow his characters. But we know its a trick and the effect is more so to put us in a delirium that matches the emotions of the characters. In Sam Mendes' 1917 a single shot carries us through a war mission from Point A to B. Again this is impossible, but effective. It's much more rare to authentically pull this off, but I highly recommend Victoria (2015), a taut German feature that manages the trick for 140 minutes. Some casual viewers may consider these type of movies a gimmick, but there's a definite genuinity to films that manage this method.

Buried does not attempt the single-shot technique but still pulls off a trick that seems almost as tricky. It's perhaps the smallest single setting film, which is effective in envoking a claustrophobic feeling between our main character Paul Conroy, and the audience in its darkened theater. Seeing this film on the big screen was certainly an opportunity I think Cortes deserves, although it is on Amazon Prime today. (Watch it in the dark.) By keeping the lights low, there's a chilling sense of dread that matches the claustrophobia. We're stuck with Paul. We aren't seeing studio lights or cutting away to bigger locations to mix up the mood. The main source of light Paul has is a Zippo lighter, and its not very effective, naturally. The shadowy effect it has on the angles of the tight setting and close up shots of our distressed protagonist's facial reactions are incredibly effective. The only other lighting we get is the occassional blue glow from Paul's cellphone as he frantically races against the battery to get out alive.

Which brings me to the fact that I've not done much to describe the plot of this film, which is not quite threadbare but certainly isn't the film's strong suit. Paul Conroy is an American truckdriver kidnapped in Iraq and held ransom underground for a sum of money and hostage message to the U.S. Paul was buried with a phone, lighter and a few other minor essentials to keep him alive as long as the mission needs. The premise is enough to justify the tension and ongoing suspense of the film, but it's not the best facet. Instead we get an incredible performance by Reynolds, who's stone serious but can occassionally make us laugh in his ridiculous pained outbursts. He's literally the only on-screen presence, while we hear the voices of the other performers over a tinny phone speaker. Like I mentioned before, Reynolds is a comedy actor, and this was a huge step for him into the spotlight and multiple award nominations. It also naturally put Reynolds through considerable mental trauma, and he's quoted saying he'd "never want the same experience again."

I won't go into any more details outside of the premise, because for a film set entirely in a box, there are tons of tricks inside. The movie flirts a little too closely to xenophobic plot elements, but never really gives in to being a traditional film about terrorism. That's all I can critique about the film, and I absolutely will not spoil some of the film's greatest tricks. All I can say is that you're in for a ride. And on the note of Reynolds' skill as an actor, Buried is a single accomplishment that speaks volumes for his career. No matter how long he coasts on this charismatic train of roles he currently loves, I'd say he's earned his way into the spotlight, and given the opportunity can surely act his way outside the box.

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