Friday, December 10, 2010

"I need one million dollars by nine o'clock tonight or I'll be left to die in this coffin..."

By Russel D McLean

I have to say this, I wasn’t a fan of Ryan Reynolds. Sure he could be passable when he wanted (Amityville Horror, one of the few partway decent performances in the otherwise appalling Smokin’ Aces) but on the whole crap like Van Wilder: Party Liaison and Just Friends* just made me turn the other way. And lets not mention his turn as "Deadpool" in Wolverine So you can imagine I wasn’t so sure about going to see Buried.

After all, it was billed as basically an hour and a half of Ryan Reynolds.


In a box.

But that was what intrigued me, too. Although CSI had done the whole “buried alive” thing for Quentin Tarrantino’s two-part extravaganza several years ago, that story had ventured beyond the coffin. Here we, the audience, were to be stuck with Reynolds for the duration of the movie.

It could be more torture than I was ready to imagine.

Or it could be wonderful.

Because the idea really appealed. Never leaving the coffin? That was going to stretch the director and the writers to the limit. After all, how much room is there in a coffin for a cast?

True, they gave Reynolds a cellphone so we hear other people, but all our reactions, all our information comes from Reynolds.

Which is why I was blown away by the movie.

The man holds it. He really does. Selling the isolation and the fear,. Reynolds has a great deal to do through the course of the film and runs the risk of selling only one note. But surprisingly he creates a multi-layered character, often more in his physical and facial reactions than anything else. We’re feeling the pain as he struggles to get a bag left for him at the bottom of the box, which is too small to allow him proper turning space. We get the fear when other creatures start to break into the box. When he realises that he running out of air. And we feel the connection when he tries to phone his wife.

But there’s humour here, too. Of the blackest variety. As Reynolds attempt to find someone to pay the ransom to let him out of the box (he’s being held as a prisoner of war by insurgents, it seems) he struggles to get anyone to believe him. And as he struggles to find someone to help him, he can see the insanity in all the red tape when all he wants is to be let out of the box. He is, after all innocent. Right?

The witty script tends to play with audience perceptions, and the twists and turns come fast as we come to realise certain truths along with Reynolds. At one point, the small audience in the cinema was holding back unconfortable during a memorable talk with Reynold’s US employers that twists and turns on itself in a way many of us, I suspect, related to on a less dramatic level.

But of course, one has to wonder, how this works as a film. If we’re constricted to a box, how can the film be visually interesting?

What about lighting?

Camera angles?

Don’t worry, because the direction is visually smart and snappy. At once natural and stylised. The lighting comes from cell phones, malfunctioning flashlights and green phosphorus. We see what Reynold’s character sees except for a couple of smart shots that serve to remind us how trapped Reynolds is in his situation. The camera breaks the fourth wall for a moment, and you see the box and the darkness, realising how utterly alone it is inside. When the lights go out, we experience a black screen and the sound of Reynold’s harried breathing is unsettling in the extreme. How would it work at home? I don’t know, but in the cinema, you are as trapped as the man in the box, and this only serves to intensify the situation.

As for action, there is a surprising amount of it packed into the confines of a coffin. The movie never allows you become complacent. The danger is real. The danger is unexpected. Its about more than just an air supply, and the shocks come faster as the movie moves to its climax.

At just under an hour and a half, the movie is the perfect length. And leaves you wondering until the last few moments just how things are going to turn out. As we left the cinema that evening, our small but absorbed audience walked in silence, only breathing when they got outside into the fresh air and then dissolving into chatter about the movie and what happened.

*where he was stretched in his acting by being forced to wear a fat suit


David Cranmer said...

This idea is born (though expanded on)straight out of an old episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

You have piqued my interest. I will have to check this film out.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Thanks for the heads up on this one. Had not heard of it and the plot seems very Kill Billish and Iswear the same kind of buried alive thing was the basis of a Tales From the Crypt or Darkside episode.

I'm with you on the Ryan Reynolds thing, but not with you on "Smokin Aces". I liked it a lot and am looking forward to the sequel.

Curious as to what your major issues are with it.

CrimeNerd said...

I'm intrigued by the film but really hate Reynolds a good deal. He's got one of those smug, overly-handsome douche faces Hollywood usually weeds out of decent roles after a few poorly performing pictures (think Freddie Prinze Jr. or Paul Walker). Somehow the guy still hangs onto fame regardless. I'm more confident in approaching it as you clearly have similiar Reynolds related apprehensions. Sounds cool regardless of the casting.

Anonymous said...

I remember the trailer for this months ago, but completely missed seeing the release, which apparently in October to a very limited release. According to IMDB it made only 1 million of it's 3 million budget but at the same time was only screened to a max of a 107 in the US.

Maybe it'll be given a wider release later?

writenow said...

Sounds great, especially as you tell it. I haven't heard a thing about this movie. I'll make sure I catch it. Thanks.

As for the actor, I can't tell actors apart (which really ruins plots for me: she did it? who is she?). Lack of facial recognition. But this may be the one movie where I won't have any problems. A movie made for me!

Russel said...

David - I am under no illusions that its not an original idea, but its done very well and not many movies would take the risk of setting the entire running time in an enclosed setting (and speaking of Hitchcock, the credits made me think of Hitchcock movies).

Sean - I saw SA on its first release and mostly my problems were a lack of characters with any depth, a plot for which the word bollocks was invented and a complete lack of tension. I just didn't care. I'd go into more detail if I could remember...

CrimeNerd - Reynolds isn't quite Prinze Jr or Walker but perhaps if he can stretch himself as he does here, he can start to become an actor I'd like. I remember hating Clooney for years and now he's a reason for me to consider a movie. Same, surprisingly, with Matt Damon.

Ron - its got to be a sleeper. I can see why a studio would be worried about releasing it to a wider audience, but its one worth seeking out, I think.

writenow - I envy you your forgetfulness. Sadly I do not have similar faculties and tend to retain the name of every bad performance I have ever seen...