Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/24/10 10:03:42

"Talk About Burying The Lead"
5 stars (Awesome)

Although we all have different fears and phobias that strike fear in our hearts and send chills down our spines, I submit that if one had to come up with a universal one, the notion of being buried alive would wind up near the top of that particular list. Naturally, artists ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Quentin Tarantino have exploited this particular neurosis in their work over the years but few have done so with the ruthless efficiency and squirm-inducing power of the knockout suspense thriller “Buried.” This is a film that does such an excellent and sustained job of turning the screws on its audience from start to finish that Alfred Hitchcock himself would have given his eyeteeth to have a crack at the material and it is doubtful that even he could have improved on what director Rodrigo Cortes has pulled off here with nothing more than a tiny budget and a lot of fiendish inspiration.

Set in 2006, the film stars Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy, an American working in Iraq as a truck driver who, as the film opens, finds himself buried underground in a pine box with nothing on his person but a lighter, a pen, a knife and a cell phone. After making a series of frantic phone calls to his wife and employer and the government that go absolutely nowhere, the phone rings and the voice of an Iraqi man on the other end informs him that he was part of a convoy that was ambushed by insurgents and that he has two hours to acquire $5 million in ransom money or he will wind up suffocating underground. Finally, Paul manages to contact the State Department and is informed by a representative of the Hostage Working Group that while they will do everything possible to locate him, it is U.S. policy never to negotiate with terrorists. Later on, he finally gets in touch with a representative of his employer and discovers to his horror that there are some things in the world that are actually even more terrifying and unpleasant than being buried alive.

In essence, “Buried” is more or less a gimmick film but one that is far more effective than such things usually are because it doesn’t rely solely on the gimmick to get along. Even though the film takes place entirely within the confines of the coffin, it never becomes boring from a visual standpoint thanks to cinematographer Eduard Grau’s striking widescreen compositions and use of darkness at key moments. The sound design from James Munoz is equally striking in the way that its cacophony of labored breaths, scratches on wood and falling dirt serve to ratchet up the tension even further. While I suspect many observers will look upon “Buried” as a directorial triumph, the screenplay by Chris Sparling is a bit of a wonder in how it takes what could have been a limited conceit and spins it out with an ingenious blend of wrenching suspense, heartbreaking melodrama, black humor and, amazingly enough, one of the year’s most exciting action scenes. Hell, even Ryan Reynolds, an actor for whom I have had relatively little use for in the past, is really impressive here as well in the way that he eliminates the studied smarminess that has plagued most of his previous performances and replaces it with a combination of anger, incredulity and vulnerability that is undeniably appealing and which make the final scenes all the more powerful as a result.

“Buried” is that rarity among contemporary thrillers--a film that comes up with an ingenious central conceit, fleshes it out with a combination of intelligent writing and deft cinematic style and then finds the perfect note on which to end it--and the fact that it pulls these feats off with only the most modest of means is even more impressive when compared to any number of bloated duds that you or I could name. Trust me, this movie is a knockout and will make you squirm in the best possible way from beginning to end.

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