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Waking groggy in pitch darkness, Paul Conroy, a truck driver from the US working as a contractor in Iraq in 2006, slowly realizes he is trapped inside a wooden coffin, buried alive. With his cigarette lighter, he can see the trap he is in, and he quickly realizes that there's not enough air for him to live long. He finds within the coffin a working cellphone, which allows him contact with the outside world. But the outside world proves not to be very helpful at finding a man buried in a box in the middle of the Iraqi desert. Paul must rely on his best resource--himself.
For more about Buried and the Buried Blu-ray release, see Buried Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 6, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ivana Miño, Stephen Tobolowsky, Samantha Mathis, José Luis García-Pérez, Warner Loughlin
Director: Rodrigo Cortés
» See full cast & crew
Buried Blu-ray Review
No exit strategy.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 6, 2011
No one ever called the European or Pacific theaters in World War II quagmires, and indeed that term wasn't even used for the long running (and some would say still simmering) Korean conflict. "Quagmire" first raised its mucky head during Vietnam, and it has been resurrected with fair regularity for any conflict, large or small, which the United States has engaged in ever since. Of course it's now part and parcel about our "dialogue" concerning Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter conflict which has recently supplanted Vietnam as our "longest running war," as if (and in fact an argument could be made it is), it's a television program. Buried is a horrifying film based on a seemingly impossible conceit that takes the quagmire to a personal level, as a private trucking contractor named Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself spirited away into a buried box after his convoy is ambushed and attacked in Iraq. The entire film takes place within the confines of the wooden coffin, lit only by Conroy's cigarette lighter and the blue light of a cell phone his captors have left for him (as well as a glow stick and flashlight he discovers later), and the film, aside from some voice work from people on that cell phone, is a solo outing for Reynolds, who may find himself an Oscar contender in a few weeks. Buried is not a perfect film, and in fact has a few gaping holes of logic, as well as some silly hyperbolic elements that may enrage some viewers in the wrong way, but it is such an arresting concept and so often brilliantly staged that it becomes one of the more riveting film experiences of the last year.
There seems to be an almost universal built in genetic code which makes virtually all of us afraid of being buried alive, and Buried plays upon that subliminal disposition brilliantly. The film opens in complete darkness. The audience, just like its protagonist, is disoriented, finely attuned to sound but visually unaware of surroundings or context. Director Rodrigo Cortés plays this opening gambit for all its worth, letting the darkness stretch on for what seems an eternity, before Conroy finally fidgets around and finds his first source of lighting, the cigarette lighter. He quickly discovers his (and our) worst nightmare has come true—he's been buried alive. The audience is given no backstory or information, and so is flailing as wildly as Conroy himself in the opening minutes of the film. Only when Conroy discovers a cell phone in the coffin do the pieces begin to gel and we're slowly given enough information to make the nightmare real, palpable and incredibly disturbing. Conroy is a glyph for Everyman here, and perhaps more singularly for the "innocent" American bystander caught in the chaos of an international conflict, in this particular case, Iraq. As Conroy receives his first call from his captors, he discovers that, despite his protestations to the contrary, in Iraqi eyes (or at least some Iraqi eyes), there is no such thing as an "innocent American bystander." In much the same way that Americans paint with broad brushstrokes to color whole countries and/or peoples part of an "axis of evil," Conroy's captors couldn't care less that he's a private contractor hired to drive supply trucks. He has no military objective and is not a soldier. But as the heavily accented voice of the kidnapper contact makes clear, "American" equals "soldier" in this case.
Buried is obviously not a film for anyone suffering from claustrophobia. Cortés films from within the confines of the coffin in excruciatingly close quarters. Some framings reveal only parts of Reynolds' face, or the side of part of his body, as if to make the cramped quarters unbearably visceral. But perhaps even more importantly than the physically close quarters, Buried is one of the most emotionally oppressive films in recent memory. For the most part, the works toward the film's benefit, though there are some missteps. Conroy's first phone calls all seem like something out of a black comedy skit, where one unhelpful person after another pretty much refuses to even listen to this poor man trying to relate what's happened to him. It's one of the few dramatic errors Buried makes. It starts the film out on a hyperbolic note that doesn't allow for any increase in tension, simply because things are portrayed as being taught to the point of breaking from the get go. On the other hand, for anyone who has ever encountered one voicemail after another when trying to get through to a real, live human being, there's an element of frustrating truth to what Conroy encounters in the opening moments of the film. There's also at least one gaping logic hole, which I won't spoil other than to say if a cell phone's number is "restricted" on Caller ID, no one should be able to return a call, even if they do press *69.
Director Cortés establishes himself as a major talent with Buried, able to work the conceit of filming within the confines of a small enclosed space with a really amazing variety of setups and ingenuity, while sacrificing little in the way of dramatic momentum, other than some stutters endemic to screenwriter Chris Sparling's mostly excellent work. Many directors have set themselves challenges with various relatively artificial strictures imposed on their approaches (Hitchcock's Rope comes instantly to mind), but Cortés rises above the mere gimmick of Buried to create an impeccably unsettling experience, one that is really quite unique in the annals of suspense and thriller films.
Reynolds does some singular work here (in every sense of the word, since he carries the film virtually single handedly), though he, like the film itself, is occasionally at the mercy of dramatic license which plays too often on terror with no opportunity to breathe. Of course that's perfectly in tune with what the character of Conroy is going through, but Reynolds starts this film at an "11", so to speak, and then has to downshift midstream in order to build the tension again as the film reaches its devastating denouement. That denouement itself plays like something out of an old Twilight Zone episode, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may leave some viewers shaking their fists in fury at a film which allows for no easy egress from its own self-contained horrors. Quagmire, indeed.
Buried Blu-ray, Video Quality
Buried doesn't have a knock your socks off hi-def image, and that's obviously quite intentional. Delivered via an AVC codec, in 1080p and 2.35:1, Buried is deliberately shot in a low contrast environment with only minimal lighting effects, giving the film a dark, shrouded and somewhat desaturated look. That said, there is abundant fine detail in the many close-ups of Reynolds' battered face. Rope burns, blood and beard stubble are all completely sharp and well detailed, and though the "corners" of the image often disappear in the encroaching darkness, black levels are stable and expressive. Colors are muted, again deliberately so, so that Reynolds' haggard flesh tones, along with the yellow flare of the cigarette lighter, ghostly green of the glow stick, white and red of the flashlight, and ice cold blue of the cell phone really provide the only hues throughout the film. Buried was obviously crafted to be as oppressive visually as it is emotionally, and when taken in that context, this Blu-ray presentation works very well indeed.
Buried Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Despite an intentionally extremely narrow soundfield, Buried has an amazingly well rendered lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that perhaps surprisingly manages to be incredibly immersive while working within the narrow confines of a wooden box. Right off the bat, with the film imageless for the first segment, we get a variety of thunks, thumps and heavy breathings dispersed throughout the surround channels. While the bulk of what dialogue there is is placed front and center, repeatedly ambient noises creep in from the sides and rear, adding to the oppressive feeling that smothers Buried at virtually every turn. Fidelity is excellent, with careful delineation between Reynolds' "live" voice and the cell phone communications. Also superb is Victor Reyes' minimalist score, which is extremely well crafted and mixed into the proceedings.
Buried Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, Buried's supplements are pretty subterranean:
Buried Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Buried is not an easy film to stomach, and in fact many viewers may be gasping for air along with Reynolds' character Conroy. One of the most brilliantly staged films in recent memory, Buried manages to allude to America's current global situation while depicting a horrifyingly personal story. The film has some dramatic problems, but Reynolds gives a visceral performance, and Cortés is a director to keep an eye on. Disturbing, distressing and with no easy answers, Buried is Highly Recommended.
Buried: Other Editions
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Buried Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray - January 18-24 - January 17, 2011
Timothy Olyphant made a name for himself starring as Seth Bullock in the now legendary HBO series Deadwood. After that series abruptly ended in 2006, Olyphant floated around Hollywood until strapping on his cowboy boots once again for the FX series Justified. Today, ...
• Buried Blu-ray Announced - November 30, 2010
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced Buried for Blu-ray release on January 18, 2011, in a BD/DVD combo pack. In this claustrophobic thriller, Ryan Reynolds plays an American contractor in Iraq who wakes up inside a coffin, with only a cell phone, a lighter ...
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