theatre, it is quite common for a one-hander to be performed on a
single set. For feature films it is very rare. Sometimes you get two or
three-handers set in a single room, such as Richard Linklater’s Tape,
although this was based on a play and relies heavily on the script and
drama, rather than the cinematic vision. Buried, by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés,
takes the concept of a single-person film to an extreme by placing the
protagonist in a small box; a coffin to be more precise. And this isn’t
yet another vampire or horror movie, but a contemporary, and very
Paul Conroy (Reynolds) is a truck driver for a private US
contractor in Iraq. The convoy he is driving with is attacked by Iraqis
and Paul wakes up in the dark, banging his head as he tries to sit up.
He searches his pockets for his lighter, to discover he is in a wooden
box, a crude coffin, and buried underground. In this box with him is a
mobile phone, and a limited amount of air. For the film to work we have to suspend the disbelief that
he can get reception on the phone (so he can’t be buried that deep),
and the phone must be on contract because all the international calls he
makes would have surely used any credit and his captors surely didn’t
top-up so he could make unlimited calls to the US, but as a way for them
to communicate with their hostage, whom they are holding for ransom.
This is being excessively nit-picky because without allowing him to
make the calls the film would have been extremely dull. The film is all
about the conversations he has with his employers, the government, his
family and his captors as he tries to negotiate his freedom. Among these
conversations are moments of pathos and great humour, comments on
corporate mentality and the US presence in Iraq. What makes the film
work, though, is Reynolds’ performance. He manages to hold your
attention throughout by evoking both empathy and sympathy, as well as
moments when you want to shout at the screen in frustration. Probably
best known for his action roles, this really showcases Reynolds’ acting chops that he can maintain such high-level tension and believability in such a restricted setting.
On the downside, the cinematography does tend to get a bit tricksy at
times and does break down the fourth wall too often with its constantly
changing camera angles. This is obviously done to maintain a certain amount of visual variety and interest as well as the sense of claustrophobia.
The opening credits also feel rather incongruous to what is to follow,
and the film may have been better off opening with black.
Tense and engaging, with a superb ending and a tour de force performance, this is one not to miss.