American driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) tries to dig himself out of a bad situation in the claustrophobic drama "Buried."
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"Buried" takes place inside a coffin.
For 95 minutes.
Just an American truck driver buried in a coffin somewhere in Iraq. The only things in there with him are a crummy flashlight, an Iraqi cell phone and, for a while, a snake.
If you're already turned off by this description of "Buried," keep an open mind and understand that his movie, ingeniously directed by Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes, is the kind of daring, tight and riveting work of cinema that the late Alfred Hitchcock would have embraced.
In fact, Cortes cites Hitchcock's works as inspiration for "Buried." The master's 1944 "Lifeboat" - shot in the confines of a small life boat - and his 1948 "Rope" - shot with one seemingly seamless, uninterrupted 80-minute take - served as a springboard for Cortes' approach to making "Buried."
Ryan Reynolds, who's mostly known for working the realm of romantic comedies, quantum leaps into serious dramatic art as Paul Conroy, a driver ambushed by presumed insurgents and buried in a coffin until someone pays a ransom for his life.
"Buried" begins in total darkness as Conroy wakes up without first knowing where he is.
In this box, we see only what Conroy sees. Nothing more. And he can only see when his failing flashlight works, or when he opens a greenlighted cell phone, apparently left for him to contact people with ransom money.
Could any movie setup sound more visually boring than this?
Cortes devised seven different coffins of differing sizes for "Buried," each one that would enable a camera to capture inventive moves and angles so that the visuals never become stagnant.
That keeps our eyes at attention, but the whole movie falls on Reynolds to pull off a performance so engaging that we're willing to watch his immobilized character for the length of a feature film.
Reynolds invests his character with so many shades and levels of emotion that we instantly bond with Conroy and stay with him for this strange and scary drama.
This is a showcase movie for Reynolds, and if it's a big commercial hit, has the power to propel him into the ranks of actors taken seriously by Hollywood powers. (Reynolds is already on tap to play the title superhero in "Green Lantern.")
"Buried" represents a brave and bold challenge for Cortes, who has fashioned the kind of short-story thriller that major studios no longer create because they are perceived to have limited mass appeal.
You could be watching a game-changer movie here.
Written with direct honesty by Chris Sparling and photographed with claustrophobic glee by Eduard Grau, "Buried" offers an utterly simple plot executed by excellent direction and a powerful, surprisingly understated performance by Reynolds.
What happens in "Buried"?
Let's just say you should probably trim your nails before you see it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Rodrigo Cortes
Other: A Lionsgate release. At the River East 21 and City North in Chicago and the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated R for language. 93 minutes