This week on "Coincidence Theater"...
As I lined up tonight at the Holiday for the 8:00 show of "Buried," the news broke and the word spread. "Buried" had just been sold. For a whooole lot of money.
Congratulations, Team "Buried." Well-played. These guys just played the Sundance game exactly right.
They've got a movie. It's pretty much exactly exactly as advertised. It's Ryan Reynolds in a box for ninety minutes, emoting a whoooole bunch. Ryan Reynolds pretty much is the experience here. He gives one of those high-wire act performances where part of your reaction to it is raw admiration at the stones it takes to go for it. Reynolds is never less than 100% engaged in his role, from the opening frame to the closing one. He's onscreen the entire time. Alone. Either you pull that off or you don't as an actor. Either you can hold an audience's interest, or you can't. There's no middle ground. Reynolds deserves a cut of this film at the box-office because when there's word of mouth, much of it will be in regards to him.
On a similar note, Rodrigo Cortés is an enormously talented director in terms of control. He's well-aware of the math-problem of shooting a whole movie in a coffin. So he solves the problem visually, scene after scene. He takes each phone call, each new realization, and turns them into completely self-contained set pieces of tension, each with a distinct visual plan. He's going to make many, many movies, and I'm fairly sure I'll like many of them.
Because, sorry to say, I didn't care for "Buried" at all.
Other critics may be far more enthusiastic than me, and I wouldn't blame them. I get why people like it and they're responding to it. As I said... Ryan Reynolds does his job. Rodrigo Cortés does his job. Chris Sparling made the Black List with the script, and I think it's clever. But sometimes, I wish clever wasn't as valued as honest in movies. There's just plain too much shoe leather, too much contrived theater meant to distract us from the claustrophobic setting.
I never believed it.
What I'm going to say isn't a spoiler because it doesn't happen in the movie, but there's a stretch where you're almost being led to believe certain things, and that what you're watching is going to turn out to be sort of like David Fincher's "The Game" meets "True Lies,' a head-trip about marital fidelity. And in the end, NONE OF THAT is important or relevant or even revisited. It's all misdirect. The story you're being told is complex for the purpose of complexity... not because there's any real story being told. And if I don't believe in the reality of what I'm watching, which I can't because of the choices this film makes, then all the slick in the world doesn't help.
The film begins in darkness. Then Paul Conroy (Reynolds) manages to find a lighter. in his first few strikes, we just see still flashes of his eye in close-up. And then he manages to get a flame, and from that moment on, we're in the box. He's got several items in there with him that he can use to help himself, and first and foremost, he's got a cell phone. A magic cell phone. That always works, even for international calls, even though he is BURIED UNDERGROUND.
I don't question him getting some signal. You could make the sporadic nature of it tense. But when I am sitting at the Yarrow Hotel and there's no signal, and I'm inside a central building at one of the biggest film festivals in the world... and there's no wireless signal. Not consistently. Not in any real way. And here's a guy buried in Iraq, underground, and he's calling cell phones and the State Department and his mother's nursing home, and he's always got flawless service, and... really? It works perfectly.
For the entire rest of the movie.
It's so perfect, and how he's fed information from phone call to phone call slowly reveals Paul as a not-perfect guy. In fact, a guy who wasn't particularly nice. As Eric D. Snider put it, the movie is "dick in a box." That's sort of interesting, but the film's too busy laying down all that red herring shoe leather to really explore Paul in a way that makes his potential death matter. There's a "This Is Your Life" clockwork precision to the way things are revealed about Paul and to Paul, and for a while, I expected a Jigsaw to come out and explain the game. It's that arch.
Still... I'm not penalizing the film for what it could have been. I'm just sorry because I think amidst how slick the film is, the biggest problem is the way individually well-built pieces never come close to forming something that works as a whole.
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