17 November 2010

Buried *

This was a film I knew I had to see.

The story I'm focused on right now involves characters alone in an enclosed space (a house), for the most part in near-complete darkness, with frightening and unknown threats both inside and outside, and they are helpless. Buried is like the distilled and hyperexaggerated version of this exact situation: one man alone in a much more cramped, much more enclosed space (an old wooden coffin), in near-complete darkness, facing threats from within and without, alone and helpless.

It is tense, smart, and unflinching. It depends on Ryan Reynolds's performance to work, but even more than that it leans heavily on a smart script. (I read that the writer intended to shoot this himself on a shoestring budget but some friends from a production company read it and convinced him to sell it and get it made as a low-budget studio film instead.) Paul faces a series of threats, builds relationships with some characters over the cell phone, and the stakes build steadily (and relentlessly) to a nail-biter climax that in all honesty is the tiniest bit pat, but works nonetheless. The various strings of Paul's story could feel episodic but they weave together (to run with this metaphor) just enough to feel like one story, not several little stories. It even manages to get some fairly brutal criticism of the way the west has handled post-war Iraq in there without feeling too confusing.

Some things that really stuck with me as object lessons include the sources of light (and plot- and character-driven justifications for each) and use of technology as a lifeline in a tight spot. After reading multiple stories of people who were trapped in the earthquake in Haiti and stayed alive by accessing first aid info on their iPhones and tweeting for help, it was nice to see a film really play on the desperation and isolation of that lifeline. (I have similar ideas running through my story; it also was gratifying that none of my cooler beats were done here first.) It also strikes home just how crucial casting is, because while I think the script is suspenseful enough and smart enough to sustain a lesser actor, it would have come off as a more hollow exercise without the kind of give-all performance Buried gets out of Reynolds.

I'm really glad I got to see this on the big screen (though as a side note: what kind of a person brings a child to see this and feels it's okay to have whispering conversations with them during all the tensest and most emotionally affecting scenes?). And I'm really glad it ends like it does (with one exception: [SPOILER] when Dan Brenner on the phone declares the man in the coffin they opened Mark White, by name, that was far too much for me, far too convenient). This is a good movie, made just the way it ought to be made. I'm bummed that Cortés's other films don't seem to be available in the US. Maybe when this hits DVD/Blu-ray and gets the boost it deserves, they'll release some.

Seen at the Hollywood Theatre.

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