90 Minutes in a Coffin with Ryan Reynolds

09/22/2010 4:00 AM |

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés

You needn’t be particularly claustrophobic to feel unnerved by the opening of Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a wooden coffin buried a few feet under sand. His panicked gasps are contagious. (After all, the fear of being buried alive must be as old as the burial ritual itself.) But the initial anxiety soon morphs into the American can-do spirit, as an agitated Reynolds buckles down to figure this thing out. It goes to show that a protagonist, or an audience, can get comfortable anywhere, even in an airless box.

Unlike the similarly claustro-billed Lebanon, which is set in a tank but frequently peeks out at the surrounding landscape, Buried really is 90 minutes with Ryan Reynolds in a seven-foot crate—no prologue, no flashbacks, no periscope. (The kidnappers are kind enough, from our point of view if not Reynolds’, to bury their captive with a cell phone and Zippo, so that he has something to do and something to show him doing it.) But what the movie packs in formal daring it lacks in narrative gumption; it’s about one conspiracy short of a compelling script. Reynolds plays a privately contracted truck driver in Iraq, captured by insurgents and held for ransom in his tightly built tomb. And then…well, that’s about it. They want ”one meelyon money,” which Reynolds scrambles to collect through various calls to family and government officials. For its first third, Buried plays as a damning if occasionally comic portrait of American inefficiency: half the characters don’t pick up the phone, and the other half just try to pass him off to somebody else. But the remainder adds up to a lot of thumb twiddling and throat clearing.

Of course, Americans don’t negotiate with terrorists, and that ransom demand is a non-starter. Buried hints at something about the insignificance of the individual within the context of war, while the movie itself, of course, is wholly enamored with the individual—it keeps the camera glued to one throughout. Buried, however, has very little time for such political matters; it has to get to the snake attack! And, the small fire! And, ugh, the goodbye phone call to an Alzheimer’s-afflicted mom. Director Cortés, whose previous films are largely unknown in the U.S., aims to stimulate the audience’s nerves, not its intellect. When a bomb explodes aboveground, sand starts leaking into the casket, relegating Reynolds to the role of a princess in a wizard’s hourglass; it leads to a tense, but meaningless, conclusion. Like the similarly Serlingesque Right at Your Door, the set-up and final twist are killer. But the rest is just time-killing filler. There’s a reason, after all, that Twilight Zone episodes were only twenty-five minutes.

Opens September 24