Thursday, 23 September 2010
I've said for a long time that Ryan Reynolds can't be put in a box. Is he an action hero like in "Blade: Trinity"? A wise-cracking comedian showing up shoddy material as in "Van Wilder"? An indie-flick thespian such as in "The Nines"? Or the romantic lead of fluff such as "The Proposal"?
How excited I was, then, to hear that somebody had decided to put my theory to the test in the most literal way. "Buried" brings us Ryan Reynolds as: A Man in a Box.
Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, an American truck-driver working in Iraq, who wakes up buried in a coffin. Having never been trained by Pai Mei, he is pretty shafted. His only hope is a mobile phone that has been left in the box by his kidnappers. That's the set up, and to reveal any more would be to ruin the fun of this gripping little tale.
The film plays out like an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone" or summat, a high-concept, low-budget, in-depth assessment of an awful situation, the man stuck in it and the choices that led him there.
The simple conceit is explored brilliantly, and sustains interest through editing, some interesting directorial choices and Reynolds' raw, honest and tangible performance.
The claustrophobia of the coffin is ingeniously cranked up by Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes, with the camera ignoring the confines of the box, tracking in and out to illustrate Conroy's isolation at his lowest points. The film is structured with set-pieces built out of the simplest things: trying to turn around from one end of the coffin to another becomes a thrilling Herculean task, trying to find a point for a phone signal is a break-neck race, and when sand starts leaking into the box...
This tight and involving picture marks its director out as one to watch, displaying what is bound to be referred to as "Hitchcockian" verve with the slight premise.
Reynolds is nothing short of brilliant, going through stages of pretty much every emotion imaginable and remaining relatable, charismatic and thoroughly convincing. The same cannot be said of a couple of the voices on the phone, particularly the English chap charged with keeping Conroy calm while his people search for him. This guy almost derails Reynolds' one-man actorama by intoning his lines like a fucking newsreader.
So there are flaws. As well as the occasional voice-problems, many will claim a few of the developments too contrived to suspend disbelief (Conroy REALLY can't catch a break!), people will marvel at the subterranean phone-signal and network that allows effortless international calls, the escapologists out there will have formulated a workable escape plan within the first twenty minutes of the film and the ending will divide audiences in half, leaving some dissatisfied.
Another sticking point for some will be the potential political readings of the film. It can be seen as an attack on the American occupation of Iraq, or the callous, exploitative nature of international business in areas weakened by conflict, or the plight of the forgotten worker or yadda yadda, but I prefer to see it as a short, sharp, simple yet effective shocker with a resonant, human heart in the form of Reynolds' tortured everyman.
Remember the bit in "Die Hard" when McClane calls the police and tries to explain the situation? ("NO FUCKING SHIT, LADY, DO I SOUND LIKE I'M ORDERING A PIZZA?!?") If that scene took place in a cupboard and was eighty minutes long, it would be kind of like this film. There's a bit where someone on the phone asks what Conroy's captors are going to do if the ransom isn't paid. He says that they're going to take him to Sea World. John McClane would've been proud.