One man, one coffin, 90 minutes. That’s the premise of the purposefully constrained suspense film Buried, an exercise in cinematic minimalism that doubles as a metaphor for how grunts get manipulated and sacrificed in times of war. Buried opens with contract truck driver Ryan Reynolds lying in a sand-covered coffin in an Iraq desert. In the box with him: a lighter, a cell phone, and a few other items waiting to be discovered. Over the next hour-plus, the audience watches Reynolds make and field calls, in hopes of getting found—or of appeasing the men who kidnapped and buried him in the first place. He tries to reach his bosses, his family, the authorities… anyone to whom he can explain his situation quickly and clearly. But outside of a couple of pictures and videos that appear on the phone, Reynolds’ face is the only one onscreen, and his coffin is pretty much the only set.
Director Rodrigo Cortés makes good use of the limited space, although at times, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the dim light. Chris Sparling’s script is cleverly constructed too, filling in the details of Reynolds’ situation (and his life back home) in the midst of the action. He’s torn between whether he should do what his captors ask, go behind their backs, or just make his final amends with his loved ones. There should be a little more to the backstory than there is—and more to the movie than a familiar critique of the management of the Iraq War—but Reynolds is terrific, and Cortés and Sparling overlay a preposterous premise with familiar modern complaints. Buried is as much about dropped calls, getting sent to voicemail, and being openly lied to by our institutions as it about being buried alive by terrorists.