Chapter 71 – Independent film.
Since the creation of the “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, independent films have truly entered the realm of high culture and have become a force to be reckoned with in the movie industry.
In the current context where large production studios are becoming increasingly formulaic and lacking innovative and enterprising spirit, the progressive and solid determination of independent films has gradually become the driving force behind the continuous advancement of the movies. From “American Beauty” to “Brokeback Mountain” and then to “No Country for Old Men,” independent films have garnered increasing attention. Almost every year, a batch of outstanding independent works can be discovered, sparking admiration from academia and critics. For example, last year’s “The Hurt Locker.”
“Buried” is a typical independent film.
The story of the movie is very simple. It tells the tale of an American contractor who, while working in Iraq, is attacked and wakes up to find himself buried alive in a coffin. How can he escape from this desperate situation?
The boldest aspect of the film lies in the fact that the entire production takes place inside a coffin, without involving any other visuals. It starts with the coffin and ends with the coffin. The world outside the coffin and the relationships between the characters are entirely depicted through dialogue, placing the weight of the film on the actors’ performances.
This not only presents near-demanding requirements for the script and dialogue — how to fill the confined space with information, how to depict the events happening inside and outside the coffin, how to present the story before and after entering the coffin, and how to restore the original background of the characters under critical conditions — but also poses an incredible challenge to the actors. In a state of extreme distress, panic, fear, and despair, survival becomes their only instinct. However, the actors must also demonstrate the fluctuations of the entire range of emotions, drawing the audience’s thoughts into the enclosed and confined space, avoiding the monotony resulting from prolonged single scenes and the boredom of limited camera setups.
In fact, there are some works that tell stories through a monologue, but it is extremely rare to have a film like “Buried” where only the male protagonist appears throughout the entire piece. Undoubtedly, this is an arduous challenge, the magnitude of which is unimaginable.
A similar theme can be found in “127 Hours,” which also tells a story through monologue. However, the approach taken in this film is somewhat opportunistic. Directed by Danny Boyle, the film focuses on Aron Ralston’s near-death experience. While hiking, Aron falls and gets trapped in a secluded canyon with his arm pinned by a boulder, unable to move. He remains trapped in that spot for five days, a total of 127 hours, before ultimately cutting off his own arm and successfully escaping.
However, in the movie, Danny added a clear cause-and-effect structure. He not only narrated Aron’s preparations before departure and the joyful encounters with companions during the hiking process but also depicted the rescue and hope after achieving self-redemption. In addition, it used flashbacks to review Aron’s life and emotional connections.
It can be said that this is indeed a one-man show, but it is a one-man show with the participation of many people.
Compared to work like “Buried,” where all scenes take place inside a coffin, it is more experimental, independent, and challenging. This is precisely the most precious aspect of this film.
During the filming of “127 Hours,” Danny was already a renowned director. He not only created independent films like “Trainspotting,” but had also won the Oscar for Best Director with the “Slumdog Millionaire”. However, even so, Danny still didn’t dare to easily attempt to film a movie with only one setting throughout because everyone knows that such an approach can easily get the movie to become dry, monotonous, and boring, and it could easily receive scathing criticism from audiences and film critics.
But “Buried” managed to do it.
Both the director and the screenwriter of the film are relatively new in the industry. The director, Rodrigo Cortes, was previously focused mainly on short films and received much praise for his clever ideas. However, short films and feature-length films are entirely different things, similar to how a sprinter may not necessarily perform well in a long-distance race. “Buried” is only his second feature-length film.
The screenwriter, Chris Sparling, is even more of an unknown newcomer. “Buried” is actually his debut script.
These two inexperienced newcomers have created an astonishing masterpiece within the limited space! The film firmly grasps the audience’s attention, leading them along with the plot, making them empathize with the main character fate, truly experiencing the intricate and fluctuating human emotions: pain, fear, panic, calmness, self-denial, violence, terror, hope, sadness, anguish, anger, fatigue, self-mockery… and ultimately, despair. All of this turns the process of watching the film into a torment and an enjoyment.
Comparatively, “127 Hours” comprehensively showcases the multidimensionality of a character, extolling the indomitable spirit of humans never giving up in the face of life and death challenges. It is not only inspirational but also reveals Aron’s familial ties and motivations, undoubtedly further excavating the film’s profound core. On the other hand, “Buried” focuses on the struggle and anguish of a man on the edge of death, emphasizing the amplified emotional details in a confined space. Thrills and fear permeate throughout, making it a significant breakthrough for experimental films, albeit slightly lacking in depth of thought.
One can understand it this way: “127 Hours” is a work crafted for the award season, while “Buried” is a work the director made to explore a completely new territory. There was a time when Danny Boyle showcased sharpness and fierceness in “Trainspotting,” but it gradually faded away as he transitioned from independent to mainstream filmmaking. However, “Buried” truly demonstrates the sharpness and boldness of independent cinema.
We can see this point from the treatment both films received at the year-end award ceremonies. “Buried” was almost completely ignored, without receiving any nominations, let alone winning any awards. On the other hand, “127 Hours” was highly acclaimed, garnering numerous nominations at the Oscars, including for the Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Of course, an important part of the reason also comes from the male lead of “Buried”, Ryan Reynolds.
This handsome Canadian actor is mostly known for his good looks, with works like “The Proposal,” “Green Lantern,” and “Deadpool” solidifying his position in Hollywood. Due to his striking appearance, people tend to habitually overlook the effort he puts into his performances, with many even considering him expressionless.
Actually, in the early stages of his acting career, Ryan gained a lot of reputation through his performances. In works like “Just Friends” and “The Voices,” you could see his brilliant acting. He can be cute, mischievous, and sensual, while also displaying madness and vulnerability hidden in his eyes. The sensitivity wrapped beneath his exterior often moves people’s hearts. Perhaps he is not a top-tier actor, but when he encounters the right role, he certainly has the skills to do an excellent job in it.
“Buried” is one such work.
In “Buried,” Ryan realistically portrays the confusion, struggle, and pain that humans experience in extreme situations. His complex and fragile emotions firmly grip the audience’s attention, making them feel as if they are experiencing it themselves. It must be admitted that Ryan accomplished his task admirably and became the most crucial piece in the puzzle of “Buried.”
However, Ryan’s performance falls short of being stunning. If you put his performance in “127 Hours,” it might be enough because “127 Hours” incorporates a lot of flashbacks and segments to support the character’s image. The audience has a more direct experience of the character’s depth. But in “Buried,” these elements are missing, resulting in Ryan’s performance being emotionally appropriate but lacking in its extension.
One could understand it this way: Ryan showcases the emotions required for a thriller film but fails to fulfill the narrative requirements for a drama film. For example, in the movie, what exactly happened between him and his wife when he was talking to her on the phone? When he called his colleague, their attitude hinted at some issues with his character. His interactions with the government officials when seeking help didn’t show significant changes in his attitude, and his psychological fluctuations were not clear enough. Lastly, what did his final words imply in that critical moment?
“127 Hours” completes the puzzle through memories of the main character; in “Buried,” Ryan’s performance is needed to accomplish it. When he was unable to achieve this goal, it also affected the overall quality of the film.
In Renly’s view, “Buried” is not just a thriller set in a confined space but also an opportunity to further explore various aspects. These include the crisis faced by the American middle class, the conflicts between the protagonist and his wife, the catalyst for the protagonist’s decision to work in Iraq, and his mid-life crisis before the accident occurred. All these details influence his subsequent plea for help, especially the reactions reflected in a desperate environment.
Another aspect is the condemnation of capitalist bureaucracy. On one hand, there is the hypocrisy and responsibility avoidance of the protagonist’s employer, who is more concerned with avoiding higher compensation payments than human life. On the other hand, there is the continuous evasion and ineffectiveness of government departments, whose slogan of “never giving up on any citizen’s life” rings hollow when their actual actions are disheartening. The core idea of prioritizing interests implies the true purpose behind the US-led Iraq war.
The depth and watchability of this film far exceed imagination. However, compared to “127 Hours,” the director and screenwriter of “Buried” lack experience and can only place all the burden on the actor. If Ryan’s performance does not reach the required level of intensity and depth, the overall quality of the work will decline.
In fact, this is also a typical characteristic of independent films. In cases where the experimental nature is particularly strong, it can either lead to success or failure.
But for Renly, this is undoubtedly a perfect fit, as it is the acting opportunity he has longed for: a chance to fully immerse himself in a performance, a chance to truly challenge his own limits, a chance to test the boundaries of his talent, and a chance to vividly illustrate his acting skills!
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