Saturday, March 5, 2011


This week I learned about and rented a remarkable 2010 film that missed the radar for me but deserves high marks for having pulled off a great story within an incredibly confined space. If you missed it, buried is a real time ninety minute film about a man who wakes up in a coffin. Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), the man in the box, is a truck driver in Iraq whose convoy had been attacked and when he regains consciousness he discovers that he is buried alive somewhere in the Iraqi desert.

When a co-worker told me of the storyline, several Hitchcock films came to mind: Lifeboat, Rear Window and Rope. Each involved creating a limited scope and milking it for all its worth. Lifeboat is, after all, exactly that.... people on a lifeboat. But it's so much more. Rope, too, is a story that begins in a room and ends in that room, and never leaves the apartment. The tension Hitchcock creates is palpable and the story is intellectually satisfying as well.

The movie Phone Booth (2002) also built its story around this same concept, a limited space, high tension, Hitchcockian influence. Although tied to a static, claustrophobic location, camera angles and strong acting work to keep the viewer bound to his seat.

And so it is that in Buried we are inside a box, a coffin, a confined dark space dreamed up by dark minds. The box is dark, but then our hero has a lighter, and soon discovers that there is also a cell phone in the coffin. There it is, light sources for the squeezed space, and incredible camera work to keep the tension mounting. Kudos to director Rodrigo Cortes and his cameraman.

The first half hour was effective at establishing the place and the circumstances. But in the back of your mind at a certain point you can start to wonder how long you can keep this going, never leaving the box. As things ratchet up one can hardly resist being drawn in. Suddenly an hour has elapsed, and like an overwound watch the tension continuously mounts. In short, the film is a true achievement.

If you're into light comedy, this may not be your cup of tea. I heard one person say they found it so intensely vivid they had to stop watching.

Here's what reviewer Chris Ward said about screenwriter Chris Sparling. "Chris Sparling, the writer, should be commended for his work. He said after the showing, that after having his scripts rejected for their cost of locations, he decided to go for a cheap but genius idea. One location, one star, and a wealth of ideas. It makes a film like 'Salt' look like a giant waste of resources, when 'Buried' does what even some of the best thrillers can't do, it brings us inside the character's head, and does it all without a romp through the city, or blowing things up."

I agree with Ward wholeheartedly. The tension here is palpable and the simplicity makes it eligible for more elaborate interpretations and meanings as well, like great art ought to do.

In this case, one can easily extrapolate the existential equation. Each of us is alone in the box, confined in our life situations. The light we have is limited, and our boundaries confining. Where am I? What are my options?

Another film might have explored his appeals to God for deliverance, bargaining his life for freedom from this hell. In true post-modern form, there are no prayers. There is no bargaining with a God outside the box, no promises made that "if You get me out of this I will quit all my vices and serve You forever." If there is any hope it is to be found within his situation, it's only the cell phone and the lighter. And in both cases time is running out.

To quote a line from Dylan's Time Out of Mind album, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."

The film is strongly recommended, if nothing else than for its original concept and execution.

Till the morrow....

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