The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews


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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English/Math tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.

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Talk about an underground film.  Within the first fifteen minutes of screen time, I wanted to escape from my seat in the dark – the sensation of helpless confinement was that terrifyingly effective.

Starting from darkness, and there’s a lot of that here, we awaken along with Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) inside a wooden box buried in the sandy depths of a province in Iraq.  He is bound and gagged; we don’t see him, we only hear his panicked breathing, then gasps of realization, and the quick jerking movements that accompany it as he bangs against the walls and ceiling of his “container.”

Inside the box, Conroy discovers a Zippo lighter and eventually, a cell phone.   Although the language is Arabic, he manages to make several crucial calls for assistance, barely containing his hysteria.  His credibility is a constant issue as he tries to get help from several U.S. 911 dispatch centers, a family friend, his employer, and the U.S. State Department.

With dwindling oxygen and light sources, Conroy fights to get someone to believe him.  The civilian truck driver’s convoy was attacked by a group of rock-throwing children and then ambushed by armed insurgents.  The last thing Conroy remembers was being hit in the head with a rock before waking up in his present horrific circumstances.  To make matters worse, Conroy suffers from an anxiety disorder for which he must take medication.

The cell phone is both a lifeline and an object of terror.  Information is full of hope and crushing defeat (not to mention a horrific video scene).  Voices of his wife Linda (Samantha Mathis), his employer’s H.R. executive (Stephen Tobolowsky) terrorist kidnapper Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez) and family friend Donna (Warner Loughlin) are tiny links to the world.  

Only State Department official Dan Brenner (Robert Paterson) offers a shred of hope simply by believing Conroy’s predicament.  Time is ticking away, like the grains of sand that slip through the seams of the wooden box, making it resemble a large sinister hourglass.

If Conroy’s life flashes before his eyes, we can only imagine it through the voices of his son Shane (Cade Dundish) on a recorded message, his ailing mother (also Warner Loughlin) and his loving wife.  Conroy’s mind may travel back to memories of freedom, light but we don’t go there with him.  The box is our home and his, until we are as anxiety-ridden as a captive ourselves.

There is anger, bargaining and acceptance.  There is a chance at rescue, accompanied always by the darkness, and sometimes by a sinister voice on the phone demanding payment.  There is no solace.

Hope is extended both real and false, and at one point Conroy finds he’s got an unwelcome visitor.  Discomfort, restriction, and hysteria cling to him like a shroud as he is alternately encouraged, lied to and betrayed.

Although only 100 minutes, the film’s urgency will have you feeling each one of those minutes as if your own air supply were dwindling and your lights were dimming from loss of fuel, battery, or chemical illumination.

Ryan Reynolds’ roles have been generally insubstantial until now.  Here he is the sole and literal body of the film, surrounded by discorporate voices and a solitary human image of a fellow hostage, Pamela Lutti (Ivana Mino) on the cell phone’s video.  No one-man show was ever more unnerving or solitary, and Reynolds’ performance is powerful and compelling.

Director Rodrigo Cortes (Super 8, The Contestant) makes the most of the confined space with angles, light and darkness that convey terror, panic, hope, dread, despair and anger.  His use of the small space is clever and there are a variety things to see and hear, as well as ingenious light sources.  Still, the horror of the situation never leaves the box.  This nightmare occurs when Conroy’s awake; it’s sleep that brings momentary relief.

Chris Sparling’s script is cleverly constructed as well, filling in the details of Conroy’s situation (and his life back home) so that we are as filled in as the hole containing his box.  The difference is we are able to go outside again.

In 'Buried', there is no “outside the box.”