A man is in trapped in a coffin somewhere underground in Iraq in Buried, a movie featuring only one actor, Ryan Reynolds, on screen.
Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) awakes to find himself in total darkness and, after doing some flailing around, realizes that he is also in a slim wooden box. A civilian contractor, the last thing he remembers is his convoy of trucks being ambushed in Iraq. With the help of a lighter, he is able to figure out it’s a coffin and some banging around on the lid confirms that the coffin is solidly shut and buried underground. He soon finds that he has a cell phone — one where all the on-screen words are in Arabic — and attempts to call around, first to his wife and then his employer. At some point, a man speaking limited English calls him and makes it clear that Paul must find a way to get $5 million to this man or he will be left there to die.
The movie is entirely set in the coffin — no flashbacks, no location shots of the kidnapper or Paul’s wife’s cell phone, forgotten somewhere while he tries desperately to reach her. The one outside-of-coffin look we get is through video sent to the cell phone Paul has, and even those few images are brief and claustrophobic. The one-actor-in-a-box set up for the movie is definitely a gimmick but it’s one that works here. The movie puts us in the coffin with him and doesn’t let any of us out. He faces hurdles along the way and, at varying times, gives up, freaks out and puts all his effort into freeing himself. Ryan Reynolds is not the first actor who would have come to mind if, prior to seeing this, you had asked me to pick someone to play a guy in a box, tasked with carrying the enitre movie on his acting talents. But he is, somehow, perfect. He pulls off the mix of frightened, stubborn and clearheaded that makes Paul a relatable everyman as well as someone interesting enough to watch for more than 90 minutes straight.
As with The Social Network and Catfish, Buried makes interesting use of our modern connectivity. This movie would just be a guy freaking out in a coffin if not for the cell phone. But with the cell phone, he is given the runaround by his government and his employer, he is frustrated by his family, he attempts to negotiate for his life with the kidnapper and he is possibly even able to communicate with the entire world, thanks to the video camera in his phone. He is connected to everyone yet beyond the reach of anyone. It’s one of the lucky quirks of my job that I got to see all three of these movies on the same day. I’m not suggesting you spend some six hours holed up in a movie theater at one shot, but together the three movies paint extreme and engaging pictures about the possibilities and limitations of modern communication. A cell phone might be able to help the U.S. military rescue you, but it can’t do anything in the very immediate future about a snake slithering past you legs.
Buried is a surpising thriller, full of suspense and clever story-telling.
Rated R for language and some violent content. Directed Rodrigo Cortes and written Chris Sparling, Buried is an hour and 34 minutes long and is distributed by Lionsgate.