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Buried is worth unearthing

Filmmakers looking to deliver thrills on miniscule budgets should consider scripts set in a single location. In the past year, films like director Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” Adam Green’s “Frozen” and even the M. Night Shyamalan-produced “Devil” took this minimalist attitude, and each has yielded intriguing results.

Even if those three films approached their single location in different ways, they all had one thing in common: while they made excellent use of their allotted space, their respective plots were not confined to that single location. Each film establishes plot, characters and back story before everything comes to a grinding halt, and the main characters becomes prisoners of one particular place.

Director Rodrigo Cortes’ film “Buried” is different in that it refuses to allow itself that luxury. Right from its opening shot, you are trapped.

Filmed on a sound stage in Barcelona, Spain over the course of 17 days, “Buried” is economical storytelling in every sense of the term.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is an American Army truck driver who has been kidnapped and buried beneath Iraqi soil. There is no explanation as to why he has been captured, and all the viewer knows is that his truck convoy was attacked by Iraqi insurgents and he has found himself inside a pine box.

For many, the idea of watching one man trapped within a box for 95 minutes may sound like a chore to sit through, but Cortes has devoted himself to removing that notion from his audience.

What is most impressive about “Buried” is the filmmaking craftsmanship that is on display throughout its runtime. It is no surprise that the opening credit sequence makes a special effort to mention crew positions like the set decorator and sound designer, credits that usually run after a film is over.

While positions like these are key components in the production of any film, every single detail can make an even greater difference while shooting one actor inside one space. The little things are crucial in keeping the audience’s attention.

The light that Conroy’s Zippo lighter gives off beautifully illuminates the inside of his pine prison, putting the viewer in an almost hypnotic trance. Then there are the noises, like the heavy breathing we hear as he lays in the darkness, or the constantly shifting layers of sand above him that could give way at any second. These moments display masterful technical skills, but never overshadow what keeps the film afloat: its story.

What initially hooked talent like Cortes and actor Ryan Reynolds into this project was the screenplay by relative newcomer Chris Sparling. With financing for original films in short supply, Sparling worked on a story that purposefully constricted itself, yet packed a powerful punch and could catch the eye of a financer looking to back a project that could be completed relatively quickly.

Sparling’s screenplay for “Buried” made the Black List in 2009 – a list compiled by prominent studio executives of the best unproduced screenplays floating around Hollywood. Usually, placement on the Black List ensures attention from some of Hollywood’s top talent. The script for “Buried” was no exception.

While the script could have used more back story, Sparling’s screenplay is still able to take aim at morally corrupt American institutions and at the Iraq War. Most importantly for the film’s sake, the script also creates an engaging character out of Paul Conroy.

Conroy is played by Ryan Reynolds, who is probably better known as the Hollywood heartthrob in blockbusters like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “The Proposal.” Yet, Reynolds has always hinted at having more dramatic range in lesser-known films like “Adventureland” and “The Nines.” If ever there were a display for his acting talent, it would have to be “Buried.”

Much like the rest of the crew, Reynolds never allows the weight of the film to come crushing down upon him. He is crafty in the way he is capable of eliciting fear, emotion and humor all at once, making those 95 minutes even less of a chore to sit through.

“Buried” caught on with both critics and film enthusiasts alike during its time at renowned festivals like Sundance and Toronto International Film Festival. However, it failed to connect with the general movie-going public upon its release in theaters, and ended its theatrical rollout prematurely.

It is available exclusively to own on Blu-Ray from Lionsgate Entertainment (along with an accompanying DVD) today, and it is clear as to why they chose the growing format for the film. All of those little details that Cortes and his crew slaved away on can now be experienced in a way that comes close to the standards of a theatrical experience.

While the Blu-Ray for “Buried” is superb, one can hope that enough people who purchase it will lend out there DVD to friends. “Buried” is certainly a film that should not have gone unseen in theaters and given enough time the cult of the film has the potential to grow.