When you learn to write screenplays one thing that you’ll learn is that if you want to sell a script early on it’s smart to keep the locations, characters and scale as small as you can. Sure, if you’ve got something special go crazy, but if you just want to get work keep it simple. The smaller the scale the smaller the budget. Buried is about as small as it gets. 1 location, 1 on screen actor and only 2 cameras used. As simple as that sounds it was pure insanity for director Rodrigo Cortes to even attempt this. This is the sort of creative technical challenge great directors live for. How does it fare? Click the link for my views.
Buried feature Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin underground for 100 minutes. That is it for the setting. No flashbacks of his life outside. No scenes tracking the rescue efforts. Just the box. Everything we learn about the main character, Paul Conroy, is told through his arguments and discussions, although more frequently they’re arguments, with people via a cell phone his kidnappers kindly left him. You start off knowing not a thing about Paul but by the end of the film you know his family, the relationships he has with people on the outside and as much as you could expect to learn about the temperament of a man trapped in a box. All without once seeing any of them. It really is a deft piece of writing that manages to make sure that you feel his frustrations and sympathise with him as the film progresses.
Paul is just a truck driver working out in Iraq transporting supplies to various towns. He has no military ties and is a regular family man. He is a victim of random violence as quite a few workers have become out in the Middle East. It’s no uncommon to see a feature on the news about people being held captive. Sometimes we witness all too much of their ordeal. Here we’re right up in the moment of the ordeal. We feel every moment of it with Paul and it really is an impressive feat that we never hit a point where his plight becomes tiresome. Believe me I am amazed that Ryan Reynolds could be this captivating an actor for a full 100 minutes. He’s certainly earned some respect points from me for this role.
The film hinges entirely on the three elements that in my opinion make up all good films. Writing, direction and performance. The writing is skillful and quite obviously efficient. To be able to boil every potential element of a thriller down to this small a setting is impressive to say the least. Screenwriter Chris Sparling should be able to make a name for himself from this. It’ll be interesting to see what his next two films , ATM and Falling Slowly, turn out like.
The direction is also excellent and incredibly ambitious for such a small location. Cortes manages to figure out ways of doing all sorts of camera wizardry in this one location with no CGI to help. Cranes, loops and long pans all find their way into the films visual repertoire. The lighting is also worthy of note. Buried was shot in a pitch black studio with only some cleverly crafted lighting to illuminate the scenes. Obvious the one Zippo lighter Paul has isn’t the only source of light. As you can see in the making of, sometimes they used 3 taped together at once. They also play with colour via the 2 glows sticks and a faulty torch Paul is provided with. Apparently Reynolds was the one who had to get the torch to work while in the coffin. A career in tense lighting could be on the cards for him if this acting thing doesn’t pan out.
As mentioned Raynolds performance is excellent. He really does keep you invested in the scenes as they unfold. The same can’t be said of the actors lending their voices to his many phone conversations though. Robert Paterson who provides the voice of hostage rescue officer Dan Brenner sounds like he is, excuse the pun, phoning it in. Random fact time! Robert Paterson has only been in a handful of roles one of which was Faust: Love Of The Damned (My review of which you can read here) as a SWAT team leader. Samantha Mathis also has a voice role here, you’ll remember her from Super Mario Brothers: The Movie! What do you mean you never saw that?
This is very much a thriller in the mold of Alfred Hitchcock. It would certainly have been the type of film he would have jumped at the chance to direct. They even use a similar technique with the removal of coffin walls to pull off certain shots as he employed in the classic film Rope. Sure Buried relies on it’s one simple concept to hook you in but it is the work of all those involved that keeps you there. Hopefully Rodrigo Cortes can move on to something bigger, in every sense of the word. I think he may be a director to watch. I certainly doubt this will be his only success. Ryan Reynolds also proves that he can be an actor to be relied on for a strong performance and maybe it’ll mean he won’t have to do any more rubbish romantic comedies… He will though. Cos he knows where his bread gets buttered.