When a film is centered around—and is receiving attention because of—a gimmick, the question becomes, how crucial is the film’s own little ruse to how much we care about, or even like, the film? Is the gimmick the movie or does it somehow complement the film? In the case of Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, I’m inclined to say that the film is less the nail-biting thriller it’s purported to be by some and more of a neat little experiment that probably looked better on paper. Keep in mind, however, that I’m in the minority. The majority of critics have found Buried to be a taut thriller and a biting political commentary. I, to cut to the quick, found it to be just plain boring.
The movie’s main conceit is the solo performance of Ryan Reynolds as Paul Conroy, a U.S. contractor in Iraq who is kidnapped and buried alive for ransom. With nothing besides a cell phone and few other odds and ends, Paul must figure out a way of being rescued, all the while fending off calls from the terrorist who has placed him in this predicament to begin with. Besides a short clip of one actress (Ivana Mino), Reynolds is the one and only actor on-screen, spending the film’s running time trying to figure out ways of escaping his claustrophobic death trap. In some ways, the film isn’t quite as inert as that description might make it sound. Cortés does everything he can to make a film taking place inside a box look interesting and stylish, using every trick he can muster.
But the problems that crop up in the film are rarely the fault of Cortés. The biggest failing is Chris Sparling’s script. A lot of it comes down to the fact that it’s a thriller that is just not all that thrilling. This doesn’t keep Cortés and company from trying to goose the action and suspense at every opportunity, but Buried is never able to obtain action and suspense without stretching credulity. When Paul is forced to fight a snake that slithers its way out of his pants at one point, we’re well past believability.
In a lot of ways, the film is reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth (2002), with its single location and madman on the other end of the telephone, except that film wasn’t afraid of diving into its own inherent schlock courtesy of writer Larry Cohen. Buried is simply too serious-minded to be effectively entertaining, finding its own vague political message all too important. The film has been praised in a lot of corners for what is on its mind. For me, what it all boiled down to is the not-so-shocking—and incredibly simplistic—revelation that Iraq is not a fun place to be.
The film attempts to lighten things up through Reynold’s wisecracking character, which is a bit wrongheaded, since what we get in exchange is just another smart-assed Ryan Reynolds performance—only this time in a box. There’s no character here besides Reynold’s own persona, though that’s not entirely his fault seeing as how the script never bothers to give his character any dimension. We know Paul has a family and maybe a relationship with a co-worker, but that’s about it. Then there’s Buried‘s final scene, which should be moving, but instead feels rushed and amateurish in the way it’s constructed. None of it was enough to make me care. This neat little experiment just doesn’t quite work. Rated R for language and some violent content.