Movies: Buried * * *
(15A, general release)
Buried is one of those films whose rather overbearing cleverness makes it easy to admire but very hard to like.
In it, Spanish independent director Rodrigo Cortés sets himself a kind of puzzle: how do you keep a film going for 94 minutes with one character and the interior of a badly made coffin for a set?
It's a puzzler, and to his credit Cortés shows impressive ingenuity and flair in keeping his thriller going, ably assisted by an energetic performance from Ryan Reynolds.
He is Paul Conroy, an American truck driver who has the staggering misfortune to wake up buried in a coffin. At first he has no recollection of how he got there, and when he searches his pockets he finds no clues.
He does, however, find a pencil, a pocket knife, a cigarette lighter and a cellphone, and all will become key components in his desperate struggle to survive.
With the aid of the lighter he takes stock of his surroundings, and when he examines the phone and finds Arabic instructions on it, he remembers with a jolt where he is and how he got there.
He had come to Iraq to work as a transport driver for one of the dubious private security companies who have made hay during that messy conflict.
A convoy he was travelling in was attacked as it travelled through the desert, and the next thing he remembers is waking up in this nightmare.
He begins making calls, and is struggling to convince an FBI agent in America that he really is buried in the desert in a wooden box when he gets a call from an Iraqi man who tells him he's a hostage.
They want a great deal of money delivered to them fast or they'll leave him there, and it's up to him to persuade the authorities to play ball.
He's given another number, and a tense, three-way negotiation begins between him, the terrorists and a rather glib-sounding army official. But time, and the battery in Paul's phone, are running out.
Edgar Allen Poe was the master of exploiting in fictional form the deep-seated human fear of being buried alive. Cortés uses modern technology to give the idea a modern twist: his poor sod of a victim can tell people that he's buried, but not where, which almost makes it worse in a way.
But a wooden box is a wooden box, and in the end Buried feels like a very clever curio rather than a finished film.