By Roxana Hadadi
Don’t see “Buried.”
Really, it’s that simple. Ignore the hype. The thriller from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés is being marketed as a suspenseful look at the injustice of the war in Iraq and the awful byproducts it has created, like unfeeling corporations, lying officials and evil fanatics, but it fails on all fronts.
From the unbelievable premise, which places truck driver Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) in a box buried in the desert by Iraqi terrorists who demand $5 million to let him out, and the lack of character development – because Reynolds stays in the box for the whole film, interacting with no one but people on his phone – there’s nothing redeeming about “Buried.” Those who think the film is transmitting some important message about Iraq should see “The Hurt Locker” or “The Messenger” instead. At least those films had plots.
“Buried,” however, does not. It begins in pitch black, with sounds of breathing and scrambling around as Conroy, a regular old American guy who came to Iraq to support his family by driving trucks for a contracting company, realizes what’s going on. After he and some other drivers were attacked during a delivery by Iraqi insurgents, Conroy was knocked out – and, when waking up in the box, discovers the terrorists put him there in order to get a $5 million ransom. With only 90 minutes of oxygen in the box and a few bars of battery power left on his cell phone, Conroy has to find a way out – but then, of course, things get complicated.
First there’s the fact that no one in the U.S. is willing to pick up his call. “Come on, where is everybody?” Conroy wonders as he frantically tries to reach someone to help him. He calls 911, but he’s in Iraq and they’re not, so there’s nothing 911 can do. His wife isn’t around; her best friend has no clue where she is. He calls the company he works for, but since the terrorists who put him in the box took the slip of paper with the corporation’s emergency contact information, the receptionist transfers him to Human Resources instead of listening to his problem. He tries to reach out to the FBI, the Pentagon and the State Department, but they all seem half ambivalent, half unwilling to give him any hope about getting out of the box. Only one guy, Dan Brenner (voiced by Robert Paterson), who handles hostage situations for the State Department, gives Conroy the time of day, promising he’ll do all he can to save him. After all, he’s done it before.
Or has he? As the situation gets worse – Conroy realizes the terrorists also took one of his friends hostage and are threatening to kill her if he doesn’t cooperate, his phone loses reception, his company threatens to sever ties with him – the film’s only onscreen character begins to understand that he may not get out of this alive. With that ominous conclusion at hand, “Buried” challenges its viewers to reexamine the steps that got us here: the war in Iraq, big business and unfeeling bureaucracies are all things we can change, if only we cared a little bit more.
“Buried,” however, just isn’t effective at making us want anything more than to get out of the theater. The film is so irrationally put together that it’s infuriating: Terrorists would kidnap one of his fellow workers and keep her at gunpoint, but go through all the trouble of digging in the desert and burying Conroy?
Conroy realizes he has limited oxygen in the box, but keeps on using his lighter? A snake slithers out of the box through a large hole, but Conroy doesn’t think it would be pertinent to investigate the gaping crevice? It’s hard to take the film seriously when Cortés is too busy with wide shots, fast edits and ominous music to make “Buried” believable.
And obviously, for those who are claustrophobic, have a fear of being buried alive or just don’t like the dark, this movie is your worst enemy. Plus, lots of cursing, an awful self-mutilation scene, some other graphic violence and emotionally weighty talk about war and the meanings of life and death make R-rated film definitely unsuitable for any children or most teens.
To be fair, Reynolds deserves some credit: He does his job effectively, mixing in biting sarcasm – “Or else, they’ll take me to Sea World,” he says exasperatedly when someone asks what the terrorists plan to do with him if he can’t get the $5 million – with exhausted hopelessness. But when Cortés veers into preachy territory, as Conroy argues that he’s “just a guy” and Dan assures him that no one knew of the dangers when the U.S. went into Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the film becomes unbearable. With an outlandish narrative and ham-fisted morality, “Buried” never should have come up for air.