Tuesday 28 September 2010

Buried review

Buried (15, 95 mins)
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The ‘what if’ question is one that has lent itself to many fine (and not so fine) movie ideas over the years. The central conceit of Buried, ‘what if you were buried alive?’, has surfaced in any number of movies and TV shows, but never before has it been the focus of an entire film.

Ryan Reynolds is the only credited actor in Buried which, though in English is actually a Spanish production. This is a country that has given us many of the best horrors of the last few years, so initial signs are encouraging.

An ominous, Jaws-like score over the opening credits gives way to complete darkness and total silence, which is broken eventually by the sound of someone breathing increasingly heavily. This turns to the noise of someone pounding and becoming more panic stricken until mercifully a lighter flickers and we see Paul Conroy (Reynolds), bound and gagged and trapped inside a coffin.

The how and why of his situation is supplied early on thanks to the mobile phone he has been left with. We learn quickly that he’s a contracted truck driver in Iraq whose convoy was attacked and if a $5m ransom isn’t paid within a few hours, he’ll never be found. Though he manages to contact the authorities, they've no idea where he is and the race is on to find him in time.

The potential problem for such a high concept is that there isn’t enough incident and development to sustain the running time. A man trapped in a box is all very well as an idea, but it can offer interest for only so long unless the stakes are raised; it is supposed to be a thriller after all.

And like other movies where there’s only one person on screen for most of the time, you need to ensure that your leading man has the chops to carry the film alone – most of what was good about the likes of Cast Away or I Am Legend came down to the presence of superstars like Tom Hanks and Will Smith.

In Reynolds we get an actor who has demonstrated extreme charm and likeability on many occasions, but Buried demands an awful lot more than that from him. Early details about who he is ensure we’re invested in him, and Reynolds’ range is impressive as he moves through panic, terror, frustration and impotent rage at those unable or unwilling to help him.

The tension is supplied automatically by the finite air supply that Conroy has, but by introducing ever escalating dangers, director Rodrigo Cortes ratchets the claustrophobia and terror to sometimes agonising levels. He also manages to keep it pacy and fresh by finding an infinite number of angles from which to shoot the action, and even an emotional element late on.

Thanks to a compelling and committed performance from Reynolds, and accomplished work from its director, Buried is a cracking thriller that for once carries a high concept from idea all the way through to execution.

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