I went for my triannual trip to the cinema last night. Went to see Ryan Reynold’s tour de force, Buried. I’ve got one thing to thank Buried for, it reminded me that I needed to get a copy of Russian Ark. Both have intriguing theatrical devices:
Russian Ark is a single Stedicam shot for over an hour as the filmmaker, Alexander Sokurov, helps us explore Russian history from the 17th century via a tour of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
Buried‘s device is a bloke in a box and no other on-screen visible cast members. It stars Ryan Reynolds (Two Guys and a Girl, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder) as ‘simple truck driver who goes to Iraq to make money for his family Everyman guy’ Paul Conroy. Within moments of meeting Paul in his box, I could totally understand why someone, anyone in fact who had met him, would want to incarcerate him, three feet underground, in ‘one of those old wooden coffins’.
Fortunately, EveryPaul has a Blackberry with a good signal, nearly half of its battery left and incredibly quick broadband. He’s also got his anti-anxiety pills, a small flask of spirits, two glow sticks and a torch. Despite apparently being a non-smoker, he’s also got a spectacular Zippo lighter; it’s hard to light but once in action would shame a M2A1-2 flamethrower, which he uses at any given opportunity.
Opportunities include when trying to phone for help – a genuinely savvy move despite one laboured again and again by the “Don’t put me on hold” gag. Yes, for some reason, EveryPaul does not find the light from his Blackberry to be sufficient. He must also use his oxygen-sucking Zippo to illuminate his box when making phone calls.
He calls for help a lot. He calls his wife in the USA, his calls his mother-in-law in the USA. I assume it’s his mother-in-law. He reacts to her in the same way as most old mother-in-law jokes do, but he gets to call her a ‘cunt’ not a ‘battle-axe’ once he’s hung-up in a fit of pique, edgy stuff. He calls the State Department in the USA; he calls his employer (not Blackwater) in the USA; he calls 911 in the USA.
He never gets around to calling his local office in Iraq.
Also, because the people who have put him in the box have taken the one emergency number EveryPaul was given, presumably one in Iraq, he can’t call that. He’s not memorised it. Maybe this is me, but if I was an Everyman truck driver who had gone to Iraq to feed my family, I would have tattooed that number on the inside of my eyelids and the outside of my wrists like an exam cheat with intense purpose.
Paul is not about that kind of thing. Nor is Ryan Reynolds. Ryan is about acting. He acts the shit out of that box. He emotes, he grunts, he insults everybody he calls, sometimes he doesn’t even answer the phone because he’s so fucking angry… Ryan is so fucking acty that once or twice I forgot the screaming, fucking angry voice in my head fucking screaming, “Just fucking die you cunt fuck!”
The edginess is catching, obviously.
Thankfully, the anonymous captor has left EveryPaul’s anti-anxiety pills in the old fashioned coffin, the kind they make from wood.
The kidnapper is voiced in superbly e-e-e-evil style by Jos√© Luis Garc√≠a P√©rez (8 Dates) because no Iraqi actors were available, anywhere, at any price.
This fact actually tells us more about the evils of occupation than anything in this excruciatingly ham-fisted movie. Fortunately for us and probably for the movie’s ‘acting coach’, Warner Loughlin, Jos√© Luis Garc√≠a reminds EveryPaul to take his pills.
He does so, with a slug of booze and some of the absolute best ‘drinking booze and eating pills’ acting I’ve seen ever, or more accurately heard. Ryan eats the fuck out of those cunt pills and sucks that booze down like a motherfucker, he genuinely makes glugging noises that should at least gain an Academy Award nomination.
The premise though, is a brave one. The Bloke-in-a-Box genre has not been well-served even by the likes of Buried Alive (‘Hell hath no fury like a man buried alive!’). Sure, Uma Thurman in her Kill Bill 2, ‘Chick-in-a-box’ role is the high water mark, but even she didn’t last an entire 16 hour movie.
No, the movie I am calling, “EveryPaul IS Bloke-in-a-Box”, is not 16 hours long, it just feels as if it is.
Director Rodrigo Cort√©s (‘biting satire on consumer society’ The Contestant) and writer Chris Sparling (An Uzi at the Alamo, ‘Every day life has a story. Some just have better subtitles’) got themselves a neat, low budget device and they went with it. Sadly, the idea that could have been claustrophobic to view became laughably constricting. The story of an everyday guy caught up in the vicissitudes of an occupation/liberation turns instead into the phone problems of a dull, spoilt meat-ager who is profiting from that occupation/liberation while kidding himself that he’s a good guy.
Make sure, however, to stay in your seat (or fast forward) for the scene in which HR director of EveryPaul’s employer, Alan Davenport (played by Stephen Tobolowsky), steals the movie.
Oh, and Kevin the CGI snake… now that is high point of hilarity and studio bosses screaming, “Give Ryan some fucking action to fucking act! Ryan needs to fucking act!”.
Anyway, I picked up a copy of Russian Ark today.
2/5 – this indicates that I want those 16 hours back and I will become violent to anybody who even gifts me this as a DVD or Blu-ray.