Saturday 16 December 2017

Thinking outside the box

MOVIE REVIEWS: filmed inside a coffin, buried is a gripping concept thriller

Once the eye-catching, Saul Bass-like titles conclude we're plunged into darkness as we discern hurried breathing and scratching sounds. After a minute or so, the gloom is lifted by the light from a mobile phone and we realise that Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is bound, gagged and stuck in a box with only said phone and a Zippo lighter for company.

Welcome to the next 93 minutes.

Once he's freed himself of his bonds and become aware of his predicament, we learn that Conroy is a truck driver, working for a medical contractor in Iraq and the survivor of an attack on his convoy. He's been placed in a coffin by insurgents who are demanding a ransom or else they'll leave him to suffocate.

It's a straightforward set-up but the skill of the director and the riveting performance from Reynolds ensures that the tension never lets up and makes Buried a gripping experience. The film doesn't labour political points about the US presence in Iraq and, instead, places us at the heart of a very human and terrifying dilemma.

Incredibly, there are moments of very black humour here, too, as Conroy uses the phone to try and contact his family and US military and comes up against all the irritants of modern communications. Reaching voicemail can be annoying if you're trying to arrange to meet someone for a drink but it assumes more serious proportions when you're stuck in a box six feet under the Iraqi desert and your air supply is running out.

The disembodied voices Conroy has contact with -- kidnappers, would-be rescuers and, most chilling of all, his employers' legal department -- add to the weird sense of isolation which permeates this unusual movie, a film which keeps its grip on the viewer to the end. Not for the taphophobics (fear of being buried alive) among you, though. HHHHI

Made by the same people who brought us the breezy Calendar Girls, Made in Dagenham focuses on a real-life event in 1968, when the women on the sewing line at the Ford motor plant at Dagenham, Essex went on strike to demand the same pay as their similarly qualified male counterparts, leading to a major industrial dispute and the introduction of the Equal Pay Act two years later.

As a piece of social history, the story deserves to be told but there's just something too light and frothy about the approach to take it in any way seriously. Sally Hawkins is fine as Rita O'Grady, the initially reluctant spokeswoman for the strikers who somehow miraculously transforms into a firebrand orator. There are also good turns from Bob Hoskins as a trade unionist and Miranda Richardson as Barbara Castle, the minister for Trade and Industry, who's fighting her own battle against sexism, but overall this doesn't feel like a real film and has the air of a made-for-TV piece about it. HHIII

Of course, the question which Phoenix and Affleck don't appear to have asked themselves is whether anyone could be bothered watching a Hollywood actor pretending to throw his toys out of the pram and going off the rails while making rubbish attempts to become a hip-hop artist.

If Phoenix had wanted to take a year or two out of movies to get his head together then all well and good, but I'm Still Here is a self-indulgent one-gag trudge. They may think it's making a valid point about the pressures placed on celebrities by the media but after a quarter of an hour it's difficult to discern if it's actually a spoof or, more tellingly, to care one way or the other.

Certainly the Letterman episode is hilarious and the scene where Sean 'P Diddy' Combs tries to conceal his contempt for the dreadful hip-hop Phoenix has created is priceless, but those moments don't compensate for what is essentially a rambling home movie involving two talented actors who should have had the cop-on to keep this footage as a family in-joke. HHIII

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