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Sundance Review: Buried

By  · Published on January 24th, 2010

Make no mistake, you can make a movie about one character inside a box interesting for 94 minutes. You just have to have the fortitude of young Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés. And you’re probably going to have to independently finance your film, as no studio entity would ever dare to make a movie such as this. Thankfully, Cortés found the money to make such a film, and he found the perfect one man to be his star, Ryan Reynolds. The product of these puzzle pieces fitting together is Buried, a movie that energized the crowd here in Park City, with no more than a zippo lighter and a cell phone.

The story is incredibly simple. Paul Conroy (Reynolds) was a contractor working as a truck driver in Iraq. When his convoy was attacked, he was captured and buried in a wooden box several feet below the desert. When he wakes up he is completely alone, terrified, and has only limited supplies (cell phone with settings in Arabic, Zippo lighter, flask of booze). This is where we first meet him, in the darkness. It seems brilliant, but (again) risky to start the movie with five minutes of nothing but sound. But it works. It is in this moment that Cortés shows his audience that this movie is about the experience of being buried alive, both for Paul Conroy and us.

As the story progresses, Paul becomes acquainted with his surroundings, finds the cell phone and begins calling any number he can remember. His wife, his friends, the company that put him in Iraq, and even the FBI. He’s in a frantic scramble to get someone to help, and as he’s met with mixed results (and countless voicemail boxes), he begins to lose hope. This goes on for a good part of the movie. I know that doesn’t exactly engaging, but it is. The raw emotion delivered by Reynolds, combined with a fantastically creative array of shot selections, many of which are very intimate and very uncomfortable to watch, make the movie engaging. As in, you spend most of the film’s runtime on the edge of your seat, waiting to see this mystery unravel.

Where I must applaud the script (written by Chris Sparling) – which spent time on the infamous Black List as one of the best unproduced screenplays before being picked up by Cortés – is that it is unflinching in its dedication to creating the experience of being in the coffin with Paul. That carries over to the movie that the director has delivered, as we are made to feel as if we’re in the coffin with him. At no point do we know any more information about his situation than he does, right up to the very end. It makes the movie all the more intense.

The only problems that exist are those of logic problems. The classic “why didn’t the character do this?” or “how is he getting a cell phone signal if he’s buried underground?” This film doesn’t exactly follow the rules of logic, but it does accomplish its goal – it is meant to be entertaining and uncomfortable at the same time. There are also some heavy-handed political themes expressed in the film, which doesn’t bother us so much since it fits in with the character of Paul. Of course he would be critical of his company and government. He’s buried in a fucking box beneath the desert, and no one can find him.

The ultimate takeaway from a film such as Buried is in the potential shown by director Rodrigo Cortés. His willingness to stick to the guns of the script and keep us inside the coffin with Paul through the entire movie is very bold, and it works to set up the environment. He also achieves something with cinematography and score (both of which were brutally intense), adding to the intensity of the film. He has made something that, while not exactly the kind of film that would burst onto the mainstream scene, is an interesting and bold piece of filmmaking. He’s made something that many people will absolutely love for its originality and gravitas. Finally, he gets points for partnering with Ryan Reynolds, who is one of the few young working actors today who could pull off such a role. He is painfully authentic as Paul. We believe that he’s terrified, and we’re terrified right along with him.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)