B-movie making at its most taut and purposeful, Buried is the claustrophobic allegory that Lebanon tried to be, but with a stronger directorial hand and a sturdier dramatic purpose. Employing sensory deprivation to rigorous, unlikely advantage, the movie is set entirely inside a coffin, where Paul Conroy (Reynolds, stunningly effective)—a contracted American truck driver in Iraq—has awoken to find himself several feet underground, somewhere in the desert, with a cell phone and a Zippo as his only obvious survival tools.
If the jumpy editing and wide-screen format initially seem wrong—why allow the camera so much wiggle room?—Cortés quickly turns the space into a house of horrors, making superb use of extreme close-ups, sudden blackouts and the hallucinatory qualities of each flare of light. One of the major shames of the war has been the hiding of bodies from cameras; Buried forces you to focus on literally nothing else, as Paul—his cell-phone battery and oxygen running down—places frantic calls and is put through a bureaucratic wringer that says a lot about human nature, government indifference, media manipulation, corporate culture and basic survival instinct. The satirical elements may be too on-the-nose, and tearful calls to family, however plausible, stall the sense of urgency. But Buried follows through on its premise with a surprising amount of nerve and an almost cruel efficiency.