On the surface, so to speak, Buried is about being trapped underground in a wooden coffin with the air running out. But writer Chris Sparling and director Rodrigo Cortes are working on a second, even deeper level. The man, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), is a truck driver — a civilian contractor — in Iraq employed by what’s very likely KBR (the name is changed to deflect the litigious), and the film is finally an indictment of the occupying forces, which maroon Americans and others in what is metaphorically a wooden box underground and then won’t pay the ransom or even be able to find the fucking thing amid all that sand.
The movie begins as all movies should begin, as all life begins, with several minutes of darkness and wheezing. Cack rruhgh harrhhh. Cack cack cak. Rrrrrr, wha- the rrolf. Ugh. Ahhhh. Click, click, click (he has a lighter): Urgghh ooof. He uses the lighter a lot, maybe too much considering the limited oxygen supply. Here I must say that the camera, while close to Ryan Reynolds, does not attempt to simulate what it would be like to be with him for real inside an underground coffin. For example, it would only see a piece of him at a time. So it shoots his bloodied face from many angles and at one point even glides back to see him in toto. This means that a side wall of the coffin is gone and the camera would be gliding through dirt. So you don’t get as claustrophobic as you might.
The ransomers, Iraqis mysteriously bitter at having their houses bombed and loved ones killed and in the process of starving to death, finally make contact via a cell phone sadistically stashed somewhere south of Conroy’s feet. Retrieving it takes a couple of minutes of contortions (Urrfff — aghhhac — ah, ooh, ptui), and now the director can bring in other voices. Conroy gets a signal, amazingly (try that in the subway) but mostly reaches answering machines until the State Department hooks him up with an impotent Brit stationed nearby (but who might as well be on the moon). He can also receive and record videos. The Brit and State Department understandably do not want him to record a hostage video, which will, in a matter of minutes, put him on the website of Al-Jazeera and then on CNN. The most outlandish and disgusting conversation takes place not with cruel Iraqi captors, but with his employer, who lets him know he was terminated before his convoy was assaulted and that the corporation is therefore not liable for his injuries or death. I think this would be inhumane even for a Halliburton subsidiary — but then, I wasn’t around to watch Americans shot to pieces through inadequate battle armor.
Did I say that Buried is a tour de force for Ryan? He had to lie there for seventeen days in a Barcelona studio, breathing hard and hacking away and shouting over a cell phone while, presumably, various limbs went to sleep. One blurb-meister called it a groundbreaking performance, which I hope was an intentional funny. The film is, on its own terms, quite gripping and highly recommended for masochists of all stripes, except perhaps the ones wearing the American military kind — who would justifiably be dissuaded from getting the bum’s rush by the military industrial complex.