Ryan Reynolds (voice cast: José Luis García Pérez, Robert Paterson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, Warner Laughlin, Erik Palladino)
R for language and some violent content
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Dozens of filmmakers have claimed Alfred Hitchcock as one of their influences, but few films today feel like they might have been made by the Master of Suspense himself. Director Rodrigo Cortés has created in Buried a film that could very easily have been directed by Hitchcock himself, if it had been less nihilistic.
The story of a truck driver in Iraq carting supplies for the reconstruction efforts, is abducted after his caravan is attacked and buried in a wooden coffin with little more than a zippo lighter and a cell phone. The film focuses entirely on Ryan Reynolds as the buried civilian Paul Conroy who desperately tries to find a way to free himself and get back to his wife and daughter. While trying to use the cell phone to communicate with the outside world, his kidnappers are contacting him at regular intervals trying to convince him to get them the $5 million ransom they want and forcing him to make ransom videos and other things in the hopes that they'll release him.
Buried could easily have felt gimmicky and suffered for it, but like Hitchcock before him, Cortés uses compelling storytelling techniques to keep the audience engaged. Hitchcock tried a number of gimmicks in his films from Lifeboat and The Birds to Rear Window and Rope among others, and still managed to keep the viewer enthralled by what he did. Cortés succeeds where other directors might have let their ploys overwhelm the film (like Phone Booth). Add in the relevance of a conflict still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and you have a rather significant achievement.
And much of that achievement wouldn't have worked if not for Reynolds' commanding presence. While he has gone to great lengths to appear in many popular blockbusters, Reynolds has proven in the past that his talents as a thespian simply need a well written vehicle to shine. The first time I really felt Reynolds had potential as an actor was in the 2007 John August film The Nines. He has an effortless ability that compares favorably with one of Hitchcock's favorite male leads, Cary Grant. He has the ability to be charming and funny while moving capably from one genre to the next, as he also proved in 2009's Wolverine. I doubt the film would have worked with any other actor at the helm, but Reynolds does a superb job.
In a year with so much innovation and inventiveness, a film like Buried, which keeps filmmaking at the edge without toppling over it, employing classic techniques, shows us what the medium is still capable of even when mainstream films are beginning to fail for an audience increasingly pessimistic. A movie like Buried should have been more popular, but may have suffered from horror lovers' fatigue. Having been overwhelmed by underwhelming product, the audience that would have appreciated the film never gave it a chance, but should have.
January 24, 2011