I only watched this film is because of Abbie Cornish. Her most famous role yet is that of a romantic lead, but here she both plays lover and fighter. As Michelle, she’s known the boys in this film since third grade, and she won’t stop reminding Sgt. Brandon King (Ryan Philippe) that when the both of them get in trouble. When Brandon tries to road trip to DC to petition his , it’s her car he’s using and she’s on the driver’s seat. Some detractors might see her performance as a bit Aileen Wuornos, but she’s very convincing as a tequila drinking, pool playing tough girl, and I’m a sucker for characters like hers.
I guess I shouldn’t judge a movie that I’ve only seen in parts, but many clichés are scattered in this film. For example, a hoe-down scene when almost everything that happens seems like it’s part of a checklist of what Texan veterans do. I have to remember that these characters are based on living persons, so I don’t know how racist these real people really are. And God forbid one or these characters weren’t written as Sorkinian deus-ex-machinae. It’s better to leave characters to speak and acting in their own vernacular. However, there’s no consistent rawness in the script nor in the acting. The said scene, and others after that, portrays them as textbook racists and shooting, fighting drunks doesn’t work, and instead of making the audience pity or deride them, the film makes me feel like it’s questioning my intelligence. When Brandon makes his way to DC, everyone he meets and everyone who tries to call him back seem more like allegories instead of fully fleshed-out characters. Those characters’ terribly delivered speeches are accompanied by slow electric guitars I’ve heard in every Iraq war film. I reacted more ambivalently to the way the male characters have flashbacks of their tour in Iraq, which again are very clichéd but the actors unhesitatingly go to those dark places. By reenacting those traumatic moments in their home country, it kinda lessens the images of the atrocities these soldiers have done to the Iraqis. Because we needed more of those.
P.s. Lame actor trivia/shpiel: In the early 2000’s, I had this opinion that Philippe was gonna be the best actor of his generation, seeing his roles and performances were showy in the late 90’s and all. He still did a lot of interesting stuff after that time, but he’s two inches short of being an A-lister. Philippe was born in 1974, just like Christian Bale, Michael Shannon, Joaquin Phoenix and Leonardo di Caprio. All five have different career trajectories, only Christian and Leo went ‘big’ so far as well as competed for the same roles, and none of them look like they were born the same year.
I’ll spill my thoughts about the themes of Buried after Blackberry joke number 1. Three bars on a Blackberry lasts two hours? I can make my Nokia my slave with four bars and it will survive a whole day. 2. The fact that it took Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) to remember how to change the settings in a Blackberry either shows how agitated he is or that he’s poor and stupid. 3. If his kidnapper is so upset about his family’s death-by-bombing, he should be buying things other than a Blackberry and glow sticks. 4. The movie photographs Reynolds in a way that we both see the brawny adult that he is now and the buck-tooth kid he was in middle school. 5. Happy All Saints Day! End snark.
Buried‘s plot and character background unfold in slow bursts the same way that our protagonist learns and reveals information, while said information is further frustrated by the darkness that envelops him in the first few minutes and threatens throughout the rest of the film. He’s inside a wooden coffin. He finds a Blackberry set in Arabic. He tells the people he’s talking to that his name is Paul Conroy, his wife’s name is Linda (Samantha Mathis‘ voice), he’s a contracted truck driver for a fictional CRT, stationed in Baqaba, Iraq. He’s still stuck in a box.
The doodly title sequence in this film reminds me of the doodly title sequences in Almodovar films. Same graphic designer? This is the first Spanish comparison I will make in this post.
The second comparison is that like many Spanish films and Spanish horror/thriller films I’ve seen so far, Buried is also about an individual bravely challenging an undeserving authority figure yet is reliant and powerless against it. In his phone conversations, he yells and swears at his wife’s relative or friend. He calls his kidnapper a terrorist. The most interesting conversations he has is with a man from the state department. He accuses the man on the other side of the phone that the latter doesn’t care about him and makes many demands like asking to name one of the people the latter has rescued. Some have argued that Paul is a very entitled person, reminding the man from the State department that he’s an American citizen and of the urgency of his situation. He also expects his rescue to be quick, an expectation that goes hand in hand with an assumption that the department has more, better and quicker information and staff than he has. The man from the state department, in return, reminds Paul the irony that he’s also an individual with a different context and sets of information he has, just like everyone else Paul has talked to. The authority figures seem as limited in resources and capabilities, just like Paul.
The reason I bring this up is because the film touches on both claustrophobia and being buried alive, the subject inherently asking us the audience how would we behave in Paul’s situation. For some reason, already knowing the existence of this movie and the Tarantino-directed CSI episode, that I might be calmer, even more trusting than Paul. I know that freaking out and swearing at the outsourced customer service on the other side of a hotline isn’t gonna do me any good. I’m one of those people who will submissively take every passive aggressive comments or ‘we are doing everything we can to help your situation.’ It always takes me aback when somebody barks at people or does so consistently for two hours. However, I’ve never been stuck in a box.
Anyone’s opinion on the movie depends on what kind of ending they’ll like or accept in a film, whether he or she want realism or tragedy or relief. I’ll return to individualism and irony in the film’s final revelation, that the state department ends up finding someone else also buried alive whose name happens to be the one they give to Paul. His entity as an individual has been his fighting chance for others to rescue him, but the Iraqi leading the department to a ‘burial’ site has led them to the wrong American, despite his intentions. Both Paul, despite his cries for help, and the state department remember that there are others like him.
- Ryan Reynolds: “I Don’t Know if I Can Watch Myself In This Film” (bettyconfidential.com)