Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Ryan Reynolds Delivers Unexpectedly Intense Acting in Buried

Before he made it big as Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds was a common sight in indie movies. In fact, in the last three years before he got to play a comics-accurate version of The Merc With a Mouth, Reynolds worked with indie directors like Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Marjane Satrapi and Atom Egoyan. I'll always wonder, if Deadpool had never happened or even flopped, would Reynolds have just kept on doing these types of indie movies? Would he have just quietly fizzled out doing these movies or would he have eventually found the role that catapulted him to the status of indie darling? We'll never know now that Reynolds is busy doing Deadpool movies until the end of time.

What is more certain is that, in the pre-Deadpool times, Reynolds headlined indie features like Rodrigo Cortes' 2010 movie Buried. The premise for this thriller is simple; Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is a truck driver who wakes up encased in a tomb that's been buried deep underground. He's got limited oxygen and his only source of light comes from a Zippo lighter and the screen of a blackberry phone. He has limited people he can communicate for help. The people who put him in here want a lot of money for his release. Time is running out. Buried takes place entirely in this coffin as Conroy does whatever he can to try and survive.

For Ryan Reynolds, Buried is his equivalent to Cast Away or Rope. These are movies where an actor is given one location and an extremely limited amount of resources to carve out a performance. The lead performance of Reynolds doesn't get anywhere near as good as Hanks in Cast Away, but then, what does/ On its own merits, Reynolds in Buried is a fine turn, one that's intriguing because of how different it is from the actors' usual work. His motormouth sarcasm is kept to a minimum here as Reynolds mostly conveys either frustration or desperation. There's an engaging intensity to how Reynolds depicts those emotions while his more openly vulnerable moments as Paul Conroy prove commendably moving.

A scene depicting Conroy calling his Alzheimer's-ridden mother one last time is an especially impressive sequence of emotion. Considering Reynolds' mouth is partially obscured from the viewers' vision, Reynolds is basically working with just the top half of his face and his voice for the entire scene. With limited instruments, Reynolds' manages to convey the complex emotions Conroy feels about calling his mom possibly for the last time. The fact that Conroy's mouth is partially hidden in this scene is a good example of the kind of creative blocking and staging Cortes' brings to Buried.

Even with such a limited space to play around, Cortes doesn't opt for either incoherent or stagnant visuals. There's a clear purpose to how much or how little we're seeing of Conroy in any given shot. There's similarly plenty of thought going into the camerawork, which proves to be impressively nimble despite the cramped surroundings. Much like Dr. Seuss coming up with Green Eggs & Ham after being challenged to make a book with only 50 words, Cortes is able to wring a lot of clever visual details out of a movie just about a guy trapped in a coffin. Props to the sound team too for making each noise land with a sizeable impact. In Conroy's usually silent surroundings, every bump, creak, and snake hiss has all the importance of a ground-splitting Earthquake. That trait is well-realized in the hands of Buried's sound team.

If there is a complaint to be had with Buried, it's that Chris Sparling's screenplay could have stand to give the various characters Conroy talks to on his phone an extra dash of personality. The baddies who encased Conroy in that coffin are especially boring. They're just more Middle Eastern stereotypes without any unique qualities to their name. They're the kind of foes you can find in any random Homeland episode or post-9/11 American movie. Conroy's wife and a lady co-worker are also more props than believable human beings. Even in a stripped-down movie like Buried, it doesn't hurt to have characters who register as people. Still, Buried works just fine as a barebones thriller and an example of Ryan Reynolds successfully stepping outside of his acting wheelhouse. It's a solid piece of filmmaking for thriller fans and a total nightmare for anyone with even a hint of claustrophobia.

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