Blu-ray Review: BURIED - Ingenious Thriller That Demands Attention

Be honest with yourself; when was the last time a thriller actually made your heart pound, as though forcing its way out of your chest? Rodrigo Cortes€™ excellent little nail-biter Buried fits that bill effortlessly, thanks to inventive direction and an immaculate, career-best performance from Ryan Reynolds. Buried isn€™t just a top notch thriller; it is one of 2010's best films, and one of the most savagely original works €“ thriller or otherwise €“ to abound in quite some time. Buried is released on Blu-ray tomorrow for a refreshing £9.99 at Amazon. Here is our review... Attempts to ape Hitchcock are made frequently and are infrequently successful €“ for every The Ghost, there are several Flightplan€˜s €“ but Buried is a film that The Master himself would no doubt have wished he had made. With a pinch of the mental anguish and anxiety perfected in his Vertigo, combined with a jaw-droppingly bold technical execution not unlike Hitch€™s own masterpiece Rope, the thriller genre may have found in Cortes a new saviour if his latest work is anything to go by. The flashy opening credits €“ themselves reminiscent of Saul Bass€™ excellent title work on Hitchcock€™s films €“ may imply a sense of playful danger in what is to come, but make no mistake, if this was indeed a film that Hitch had made, it would be one of his most oppressively hopeless and devastatingly intense. The set-up requires few words; an American truck driver working in Iraq, Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), wakes up buried alive in a coffin. With the few sundries he has about his person €“ a mobile phone, a lighter, a knife, and some anxiety pills €“ he must find a way to escape, or meet an agonising death. Though the notion of being buried alive has been done before €“ superbly in the 1988 Dutch film The Vanishing, and also in Kill Bill Volume 2 and that Tarantino-directed CSI episode €“ the soul-crushing anxiety of the situation has never been so completely lingered on as it is here in Cortes€™ film. Staring things off with a three-minute black screen sequence, in which all we hear is Reynolds€™ assorted grunts and gasps for air as he searches for light, Buried is a film dripping with directorial flourish, albeit in a manner sure to alienate those comfortably resting in the safety net of paint-by-numbers genre cinema. From minute one, the film is directed with an incredible sense of claustrophobia, with tighter-than-tight close-ups easing in on the panic-stricken countenance of the film€™s bloodied star, while the occasional sound of sand pouring in or wood straining keeps us on edge. Conversely, with some dynamic use of flamboyant camerawork, in which Cortes extends beyond the bounds of the coffin, rising up above Reynolds€™ head, he is able to emphasise Conroy€™s isolation in another, more artful manner. Even beyond its stunning directorial flair, Buried fundamentlaly works because we never leave the coffin; a less confident film would cut away to those searching for him, yet Cortes lingers on the seemingly relentless hopelessness instead. This is that rare film with absolutely zero inclination to deign to its audience; there are no scenes of Reynolds expositorily shouting €œNow just where is that lighter!?€. In so categorically usurping audience expectations, Cortes creates an incredibly unsettling film which nails the desperation of the situation perfectly. One moment, in which Conroy tries to push the lid open despite the obvious absurdity of trying to escape that way €“ unless you€™re in a Tarantino film €“ is believable in its mania, as is another in which an obviously traumatised Conroy begins to convulse in frustration. There are, however, plenty of slivers of well-placed gallows humour; especially funny is Conroy€™s anger at how poorly his situation is micromanaged through numerous interdepartmental phone calls, even being put on hold at one point. Somehow more startling than the pristine presentation is the breathtaking lone ranger performance from Ryan Reynolds, a sure breakthrough for the comic actor, who has proven himself effective in his intermittent dramatic roles (The Nines and Definitely, Maybe), yet here takes it to the next-level in an incredibly demanding, career-best performance. It is the type of performance that, were the Academy€™s members more open-minded, would be earning Oscar murmurs around about this time; Reynolds is that revelatory and committed to his role. We want Paul to survive because Reynolds brings a real humanity to the role; when he smiles at hearing his kids€™ answering machine message, it is genuinely touching, solely because of Reynolds. Though bloody and covered in sand, in his anger he still manages to channel that signature charm, albeit in a different, far more sarcastic way, for hearing him chew out a family friend over the phone for failing to recognise the urgency of his situation is hilarious. Like the most entertaining thrillers, Buried will have you laughing almost as much as it will have you vice-gripping your chair. The film is likely, however, to grind a few gears with its unsubtle political subtext. The diplomatic mess made of the situation made by those on the outside, as Conroy tries to negotiate his release amid suits who are merely looking out for themselves, will surely anger strident Conservatives, but for those willing to view the politicising on its own terms €“ that it is primarily a narrative function to sustain tension, keeping us on edge until that final make-or-break moment €“ it tarnishes the film nary a bit. There is a balance to its muckraking, at least, in that the government not wanting to spend several million dollars to rescue one man actually doesn€™t seem that unreasonable, even if it is obviously sad. That Cortes finds so many ways to keep things pulsing along is incredibly impressive, draining the drama both inside and outside the coffin for all it is worth, extending the suspense to almost unbearable levels by the time the roaring climax rolls around. A late-day twist cements the film€™s political stance, yet again, it only heightens the urgency and creates a seamless segue into the nerve-wrackingly intense final ten minutes. No thriller has earned quite such an accolade in some time €“ in being both a workout for the mind and body €“ and right until its final few moments, we€™re unsure whether Paul will make it out or not. The end, needless to say, will leave you breathless.

Quality:

Naturally the look of the film is very minimalist, and the grainy film stock used won't give your HDTV much to work with, but the 1.78:1 aspect ratio fills the screen and make you feel boxed right in there along with Paul Conroy. The countless close-ups on Reynolds' battered face look particularly fantastic. Dialogue, meanwhile, is naturally muffled by the poor accoustics of a coffin, but Victor Reyes' score plays wonderfully in glorious 5.1.

Extras:

"Unearthing Buried" - this 17-minute featurette is a too-brief but fascinating look at the sizeable technical challenges involed with making the film. It turns out that shooting a film set solely in a coffin - and keeping it interesting, no less - is more difficult than you'd think. There's a very earnest clip from the last day of shooting, where Reynolds graciously thanks the crew. Interview with director Rodrigo Cortés - standard talking-head fare, but this 15-minute set-up is interesting to listen to because Cortés comes off as incredibly confident and passionate. He is surely a director to watch. Also included is a measly trailer. While the extras packaged are interesting, it'll leave you wanting to know more about the process. A commentary with any combination of Cortés, Reynolds and screenwriter Chris Sparling would have been electric. Buried is available on Blu-ray from tomorrow.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.