Director    Rodrigo CortÚs
Starring    Ryan Reynolds
Release    29 SEPT (UK)    Certificate 15
4 stars


26th September 2010

Imagine being trapped in a box with Ryan Reynolds for 94 whole minutes - it'd be boring wouldn't it? He'd just lie there pining for ScarJo and talking about which comic-book heroes are left for him to play. Would you believe then that Buried doesn't have any of that? Instead, it's actually a surprisingly exciting and tense thriller that somehow manages to keep things interesting despite never going above ground. Now let's see if I can get through this review without using the word 'claustrophobic'.

Reynolds plays Paul Conway, a truck driver and family man working in Iraq, who wakes up in his coffin with no recollection of how he got there other than that his delivery convoy was ambushed. Inside the box with him are a lighter, a mysterious mobile phone, a pencil and some light sticks - enough to keep the momentum going, but not enough to make a daring MacGyver-like coffin escape. As he runs out of oxygen, Conway has to use the phone to negotiate between his terrorist captors and a contact at the US embassy in order to try to save his own life.

[gallery]As films go, this is about as high concept as you can get, but thankfully Chris Sparling's one-man, one location screenplay provides plenty of gripping incidents on the way towards its unforeseeable conclusion, while enlightening information about the other players involved steadily trickles in - it is essentially Phone Booth, but six feet under and with a topical slant. While it frequently resorts to the 'dying phone battery' shot, there's only one moment, in which Conway is threatened by a snake, when the script feels like it is reaching to keep viewers entertained. At the same time, though, the film still impressively finds room for the odd comedy moment, usually in the form of our protagonist offensively deriding somebody on the other end of the phone in utter exasperation.

While Sparling keeps things snappy for our brains, director Rodrigo CortÚs has his work cut out in making things visually stimulating, what with only one onscreen actor for the entire film and hardly much in the way of scenery. Still, CortÚs employs a few filmmaker tricks to make watching Reynolds' sweaty mug seem worthwhile, changing up the lighting, mainly between the golden flame of Conway's zippo and the bluish glare of his mobile, and throwing some camera magic into the mix as well, such as the use of a 360░ rotation within the coffin from a pinpoint position.

Of course, however well-executed the film is, its success as a story relies solely on Reynolds, whose performance mercifully helps to dig the plot out from under its own limitations. Carrying the weight of a film all by his lonesome would be a lot to ask of any actor (when has it been done before? The closest instance I can think of is Tom Hanks in Castaway), but with Conway spending every onscreen moment caught between frustration, bewilderment and sheer panic, it has clearly been a gruelling undertaking for Reynolds. It pays off though, as he perfectly sells the futility of the horrifying situation while still appearing resourceful enough to keep viewers invested his chances of escape (rather than hoping that his sodding mobile phone will just run out of battery already).

Overall then, the film's biggest surprise is that it's not as mind-numbingly dull as its premise would have you believe. On the contrary, it's a compelling thriller that works extraordinarily well considering its own constraints, resulting in a highly watchable experience in spite of its intensely claustrophobic overtones. Dammit! So close...

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