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The Forgotten Oscars 2011

By MICHAEL NEEL  |  February 28, 2011

Best Cinematography: Eduard Grau for Buried
Release Date: September 24

Good camerawork uses color, light, camera placement/movement, and composition to create mood, atmosphere, and tone. But cinematography is more than pretty pictures; there's a practical element as well. A gorgeous helicopter shot can convey the epic grandeur of templar knights battling the forces of evil, but if you can't use a helicopter because the wind is too strong and it could send the chopper hurtling into a nearby cliff, you have to find another way to convey that magnificence. This applies to any film, regardless of budget. And no film in 2010 illustrates this better than Buried.

Buried is a simple film. It begins in blackness. We hear heavy breathing and movement. We're not sure where we are or what's going on. A lighter flicks on, and we realize, to our horror, that a man (Ryan Reynolds) is trapped in a coffin, buried alive. He's a civilian convoy driver in Iraq, and he doesn't know how he got there. His cell phone rings. It's an Iraqi terrorist who's holding him for ransom. And Reynolds' struggle to survive begins.

Buried is incredibly claustrophobic, as you might imagine. But director Rodrigo Cortes and writer Chris Sparling create even more tension by how they tell the narrative: the entire film takes place inside the coffin. You don't see the terrorists on the other end of the phone. You don't see anyone else that Reynolds calls to help him escape. It's just you and Reynolds, stuck together in a wooden box.

>>READ: Phoenix review of Buried<<

This creates a unique problem for Eduard Grau, the director of photography. How do you light the inside of a coffin? After all, it's just blackness. Grau's answer is practical. The only light he uses comes from objects that Reynolds has with him: a lighter, a cell phone, a glow stick, and a flashlight. The placement of each light source dictates how much we see in a scene. When Reynolds holds the cell phone in front of his face, we glimpse his whole body and the walls of the coffin, only to be left in darkness again when he turns the phone off. As he places the lighter on the floor to shift positions, we can make out a faint silhouette of his face — just enough to discern what's happening. Grau never adds extra lights. He never cheats. And as a result, the film is much more realistic, much more tense than it would have been with excessive over-lighting.

He also has to deal with where to put the camera. Since the film takes place in one tiny location, he must figure out how to keep the angles and compositions fresh. He puts the camera in every place imaginable, and it's usually so close to Reynolds that it feels like we are in the wooden box with him. He almost never moves the camera, and when he does it stands out and effectively accentuates the moment. Buried is a remarkably effective film, and Eduard Grau's inspired camerawork is a big reason why.

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  Topics: Features , Hollywood, Movies, Adam Green,  More more >
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