The problem with Buried isn’t that it is only Ryan Reynolds locked in a coffin for 95 minutes, but the fact that nothing happens. I am not one to claim that “nothing happens” in a movie often, but the story of Buried literally, and figuratively, goes nowhere.
Paul (Ryan Reynolds), a US contractor working in Iraq, wakes up inside a coffin, apparently buried beneath the desert sand. Inside the coffin with him is a cell phone, lighter, flashlight, flask, pencil, and a couple neon light sticks. Paul and his co-workers are attacked by a terrorist group, and he assumes that he is buried because of them. The phone rings, and the terrorist demands “five million monies” in the next few hours. Paul uses his phone to try and contact the US authorities, but time and oxygen is running thin as the coffin begins to fill with dirt.
Those expecting the camera to go above ground at some point can squash those thoughts now: the action never leaves the confines of the coffin. This might have worked if there was more going on with Ryan Reynolds’ character. Instead, we learn very little about Paul, and have to make up our own backstory using the various phone conversations. Again, this could have worked if the audience was given multiple conversations with different people from Paul’s past, but instead we sit through only two conversations with people Paul has a relationship with prior to him being buried. This is disappointing because the only character’s story we are ever given is incomplete and weak. If presented with only one character on-screen over a 95 minute time-span, one hopes to know more about that character than one ever should. Unfortunately the complete opposite is true: the viewer will know around the same about Paul at the closing credits as they did at the opening credits.
The reason this story is being told is completely unclear. What message is the director trying to portray to the audience? Anything at all? If not, that is fine, but if there is no reason to tell a story, the audience should at least be talking about something when the movie is over. Buried fails on this level as well. At the end of the movie, I was left asking “what the hell was the point of that?” and then forgot about the film for the rest of the night. The message in the movie is unclear thanks to poor storytelling. There is a lot of potential in the initial story, but, as I have said, it goes nowhere.
Ryan Reynolds does a very nice job with the material presented to him. He is forced to give very little exposition, and has one clear goal the entire length of the movie: get out of the coffin. These two facts can help any actor put on a memorable performance. What is most startling about Reynolds performance, though, is that Ryan Reynolds is giving it. Having only seen Reynolds in comedies, usually of the romantic sort, I was immediately intrigued to see him tackle a dramatic role when I heard about Buried. Too my surprise, Reynolds delivers a mature, believable performance of Paul, and though I know little about the character, I appreciate the difficult work Reynolds must have endured to act inside this box for the duration of filming. The performance isn’t without faults, especially when entering the most extreme emotional heights, but it is solid, and ends up as the brightest spot of the movie.
The risk taken by director Rodrigo Cortes in filming entirely in the coffin is admirable, but unsuccessful due to poor character development. What could have been a thrilling, intriguing character study in the vein of Hitchcock, becomes a tiresome, plodding, pointless 95 minutes. If Cortes and writer Chris Sparling are trying to make a statement on human nature, or the Iraq war (which is doubtful), it gets lost in Buried, which is why I recommend the film as a rental at best, and easily skippable. What earns Buried a star and a half is the acting by Ryan Reynolds, and the excellent feeling of claustrophobia that Cortes creates with his filming choices.