Friday, January 28, 2011


I briefly debated giving this a horror tag since quite a lot of other people have been talking about it as if it were a horror movie, but while I can see their argument this one felt more like a thriller to me. Possibly that’s due to the deeply political aspect of it all, but regardless, a thriller this shall be for the purposes of this site. It’s still currently on my list for top ten horror movies of 2010, but that’s just because it was a really weak year and I didn’t want The Wolfman making it on there.

Ryan Reynolds plays Paul Conroy, who wakes up buried in a coffin somewhere. Using a lighter to take stock of his situation, he finds that his wallet’s been emptied out, but he’s got a surprise new cell phone in his pocket that’s (rather ominously) in Arabic instead of English. We learn that he’s a U.S. contractor working in Iraq whose convoy was ambushed by terrorists or insurgents or whoever -- we never learn exactly, beyond that they’re Arabic -- and they now want to ransom him for five million dollars or he will be killed. We never leave the claustrophobic confines of the coffin, so the only actors are Reynolds and various people he talks to on the phone -- a 911 operator, a Pentagon representative, his employers, his wife, his wife’s friend, the head of the hostage rescue taskforce in Iraq, and, of course, the kidnappers -- and all of them seem like an exercise in frustration. For a man that’s stuck in a big box that’s slowly running out of air, everyone sure does seem eager to place him on hold for interminably long periods of time, and are astonishingly unhelpful when they do get around to talking to him.

First there’s the kidnappers, who force him to make a video about his situation (in his pocket they’ve prepared a speech for him) by threatening to kill a female co-worker of his that they’ve also captured, and then after he sends them the video they send him a video of them shooting her anyway, for seemingly no reason other than to be cartoonishly evil. His regional director also calls him up just to let him know that they had started filing dismissal proceedings against him a few hours before he was captured due to allegations that he was having an affair with said co-worker, and as a result his family will not be entitled to any of his insurance benefits. The head of the hostage rescue team isn’t exactly encouraging either. He tells Reynolds that it’s government policy to never negotiate with terrorists, so the ransom is never going to get paid, and they also somehow can’t track exactly where the cell phone is, but they do narrow his location down to a city, which they proceed to bomb, which damages his coffin and causes it to start filling up with sand. Seriously, he makes Jack Bauer look lucky.

The film’s direction, by Rodrigo Cortes, is appropriately dark and cramped, and the choice to have the camera never leave the coffin is the correct one. Ryan Reynolds also shows himself to be a surprisingly decent actor when he’s not appearing in rom-coms (I didn’t see Wolverine, so I can’t comment on his turn as Deadpool that had everyone demanding a spin-off), appearing appropriately frazzled and managing to alternate between screaming at people on the phone and talking semi-calmly while visibly wanting to scream at them (Look, I said that he did a decent job, not that he was Brando). No, most of the problems with the film come in the form of the script by first-time writer Christ Sparling. Everything here, while mostly realistic (let’s face it, anyone that calls up a generic number for a business instead of a direct line to someone is just asking to be put on hold for a tediously long time and left talking to people whose main goal in life is to shuffle them around to someone else), builds up to something ridiculously over the top, and is compounded by the ridiculously evil antics of the kidnappers. Seriously, look at that list of absurdities in the above paragraph, and then consider that I didn’t even cover all of it. I was watching it with three friends, and by the end we all just wanted him to die already, since the entire universe was clearly conspiring against him.

And I’m sorry, but while I could sympathize somewhat with the shitty situation he’s in, I can’t help but think about how anyone that decides to make extra money by working in a country that’s been in a semi-civil war since we blew up the government makes very bad life’s decisions indeed. I get that the economy’s sucked for the past decade, but there are always options that don’t involve putting your life at risk. Hell, just so far this year (a good eight years after our dumb cunt president decided to invade because Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate his daddy back in the 90s) almost 200 people have been killed in bombings in Iraq. Anyone that decides to go to move out there for work is, quite frankly, an idiot.

You can see my problems, then, with this film. It gets quite a lot of things right -- it’s well directed, the acting’s pretty good, some of the film is pretty believable -- but is brought down by the more over-the-top elements and a main character that I can’t manage to root for. For a man that needs all the help he can get, he sure does spend an awful lot of his time screaming at the people on the other end of the phone, and it’s his own atrocious decision-making that led to him getting stuck in this situation in the first place. He’s also fairly useless within the confines of the coffin as well: it’s somewhat oversized, no doubt to leave extra air in there for him and not at all to help with the camerawork, and yet even after it’s weakened by the bombing, he makes no effort at all to try to break through the side or top to dig his way out. He instead chooses to sit there passively and wait for rescue or death. Not the most compelling lead one could hope for.

Rating: **

P.S. If you watch the trailer, it mentions he only has “90 minutes of oxygen”. I don’t think that’s actually the case, I’m pretty sure that’s just the length of the movie outside of the credits. Also, yes, you are not allowed to just buy it on DVD. It is only available as a combination DVD/Blu Ray, because Lion’s Gate has no respect for its customers whatsoever.

No comments: