As someone who works as a video editor and sometimes camera operator, the thought of a 90-minute screenplay filmed entirely with nothing else but one man in a box sounds really boring to film and challenging to edit.
Given that the film is a critically-acclaimed success, and one I definitely enjoyed, I’d say that’s one helluva job all round: by director Rodrigo Cortes (who also covered editing duties) and cinematographer Eduard Grau for finding fresh ways to frame their shots, by screenwriter Chris Sparling for having the vision, balls and talent to pull off a script of this nature and, of course, by its (almost) only actor Ryan Reynolds for carrying everything through.
Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American contract truck driver in Iraq. He wakes up in a box buried underground, and gradually deduces that he’s been put there by local insurgents who attacked his convoy and killed some of his colleagues. There is a cellphone in there, along with some other supplies he discovers over the course of the film (another clever story-building trick by Cortes and Sparling). Through a series of phonecalls, he is able to alert his employers and the US authorities about his “situation” (as methodically referred to by all he spoke to), and eventually get into contact with an Iraq-based “hostage working group” for help, also reaching his wife’s answering machine several times in between.
The film-makers have much to say about several things via this movie, the forefront of which being frustration at the hands of telephone operators – a frustration compounded so much more in Paul Conroy’s case than any of us ever want to experience. A distinct dehumanisation at the hands of the authorities he finally gets to is crystal clear in the way they handle his, as I mentioned, “situation”; almost business-like and why shouldn’t it be? For the “hostage working groups” have jobs thanks to hostages in the first place. Thoughts on America’s various involvements with the Middle East are provoked. Digging a little deeper (pun intended) on the premise of an American buried in Iraqi soil? I leave that up to you.
The film also raises the question: how much would you do to support the family you love? For this, we don’t even need to look at Paul – his Iraqi captor’s own circumstance would suffice. Note that I say captor and not antagonist, for amongst the phone calls that populate Paul’s dialogue, it is never really clear whether he is antagonised more by the Iraqi or by the callous authorities whom he desperately seeks help from. If there is a true villain in this film, it is Paul’s employers and their legal team, having informed him of the clauses they forced into effect to evade having to compensate him and his family monetarily. In the eyes of big corporations, contractors like Paul are worth about as much as the dirt that surrounds him.
For all the horror and gore films I sit back and laugh to, the tension in Buried is so much more real; its torture, more cruel. Yet unlike the best (or worst) of horror and gore, it did not take a disturbed mind on limited budget to concoct it. It just took clever, perhaps slightly jaded, ones with nary a budget to care about.
Director: Rodrigo Cortes
Producers: Adrian Guerra & Peter Safran
Screenwriter: Chris Sparling
Starring: Ryan Reynolds